Maternal Disrupted Communication During Face-to-Face Interaction at 4 months: Relation to Maternal and Infant Cortisol Among at-Risk Families


  • In the interest of full disclosure, we note that DAG is the founder and Chief Scientific and Strategy Advisor at Salimetrics LLC (State College, PA), and this relationship is managed by the policies of the conflict of interest committee at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Correspondence should be sent to Bjarne M. Holmes, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Champlain College,163 South Willard Street, PO Box 670, Burlington, VT 05402.E-mail:


The study evaluated the association between maternal disrupted communication and the reactivity and regulation of the psychobiology of the stress response in infancy. Mothers and infants were recruited via the National Health Service from the 20% most economically impoverished data zones in a suburban region of Scotland. Mothers (N = 63; M age = 25.9) and their 4-month-old infants (35 boys, 28 girls) were videotaped interacting for 8 min, including a still-face procedure as a stress inducer and a 5-min coded recovery period. Saliva samples were collected from the dyads prior to, during, and after the still-face procedure and later assayed for cortisol. Level of disruption in maternal communication with the infant was coded from the 5-min videotaped interaction during the recovery period which followed the still-face procedure. Severely disrupted maternal communication was associated with lower levels of maternal cortisol and a greater divergence between mothers' and infants' cortisol levels. Results point to low maternal cortisol as a possible mechanism contributing to the mother's difficulty in sensitively attuning to her infant's cues, which in turn has implications for the infant's reactivity to and recovery from a mild stressor in early infancy.