Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Ed Tronick

Second Advisor

Alice Carter

Third Advisor

Karen Olson


Maternal depressive symptoms during the postnatal period have been shown to be detrimental to the socio-emotional, cognitive, and motor development of infants. Studies indicate that one of the mediators of these detrimental effects is decreased maternal responsiveness, a maternal characteristic that may hinder infant emotion-regulation development and infant secure attachment. Although previous research has shown the impact of infant cries on the behavior and physiology of mothers with elevated depressive symptoms in laboratory-based contexts, little is known about the quality and timing of maternal responsive behaviors to infant negative affect in mothers with elevated or non-elevated depressive symptoms in the naturalistic environment. The general aim of this study was to evaluate the contingencies between infant distress displays and maternal responsive behaviors during home observations of mothers with elevated and non-elevated depressive symptoms and their 3-month-old infants. Specifically, the goal was to analyze differences in the quality and timing of maternal response to infant distress among mothers with high depressive symptoms compared to mothers with low depressive symptoms during observations of mothers and their infants at home. To evaluate maternal responsiveness, a variety of maternal behaviors were coded from 30-minute videotapes of home interactions in 83 low-risk Caucasian mother-infant dyads. Maternal behavioral responses, non-responsiveness, latency of response, and number of responses per episode of infant distress did not differ significantly between the no or low depression symptom groups and the high symptom group. After controlling for maternal and infant individual differences, CES-D scores did not predict maternal responsive behaviors. Maternal responsiveness rates and infant affectivity levels were congruent with those found in previous studies of mothers with non-elevated depressive symptoms. The small differences found between CES-D groups in this sample may suggest that maternal depressive symptoms, without other comorbid or environmental risk factors, may not impact the way in which mothers respond to infant distress at 3-months.