Mother-Infant Synchrony and the Development of Moral Orientation in Childhood and Adolescence: Direct and Indirect Mechanisms of Developmental Continuity


Department of Psychology, Gonda Brain Sciences Center, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel 52900. E-mail:


Links between the temporal parameters of mother-infant synchrony and moral orientation in adolescence were examined in 31 children monitored from 3 months to 13 years. At 3 and 9 months, mother's and infant's affective states during face-to-face play were microcoded and synchrony was assessed with time-series analysis. Verbal IQ, behavior problems, child self-regulated compliance, and maternal warm control discipline were examined at 2, 4, and 6 years. Moral cognition and dialogical empathy were evaluated at 6 and 13 years. Three mechanisms of continuity were proposed: continuity in small steps, continuity through a mediating variable, and direct continuity. Mother-infant synchrony across the 1st year, indexed by the lagged associations between maternal and infant affective involvement, predicted verbal IQ and behavior adaptation, which in turn predicted moral cognition. Child self-regulated compliance across the toddler and preschool years mediated the relations between the lead-lag structure of early interactions and the adolescent's dialogical skills. Direct associations were found between mother-infant synchrony and the capacity for empathy in adolescence. Participating in a synchronous exchange may sensitize infants to the emotional resonance and empathy underlying human relationships across the life span.