Maternal Intrusiveness, Maternal Warmth, and Mother–Toddler Relationship Outcomes: Variations Across Low-Income Ethnic and Acculturation Groups


  • The findings reported here are based on research conducted as part of the national Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under contract 105-95-1936 to Mathematica Policy Research, Princeton, NJ; and Columbia University's Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, in conjunction with the Early Head Start Research Consortium. The Consortium consists of representatives from 17 programs participating in the evaluation, 15 local research teams, the evaluation contractors, and ACF. Research institutions in the Consortium (and principal researchers) include ACF (Rachel Chazan Cohen, Judith Jerald, Esther Kresh, Helen Raikes, and Louisa Tarullo); Catholic University of America (Michaela Farber, Harriet Liebow, Nancy Taylor, Elizabeth Timberlake, and Shavaun Wall); The Center for Children and Families at Columbia University (Lisa Berlin, Christy Brady-Smith, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, and Allison Sidle Fuligni); Harvard University (Catherine Ayoub, Barbara Alexander Pan, and Catherine Snow); Iowa State University (Dee Draper, Gayle Luze, Susan McBride, Carla Peterson); Mathematica Policy Research (Kimberly Boller, Jill Constantine, Ellen Eliason Kisker, John M. Love, Diane Paulsell, Christine Ross, Peter Schochet, Cheri Vogel, and Welmoet van Kammen); Medical University of South Carolina (Richard Faldowski, Gui-Young Hong, and Susan Pickrel); Michigan State University (Hiram Fitzgerald, Tom Reischl, and Rachel Schiffman); New York University (Mark Spellmann and Catherine Tamis-LeMonda); University of Arkansas (Robert Bradley, Richard Clubb, Andrea Hart, Mark Swanson, and Leanne Whiteside-Mansell); University of California, Los Angeles (Carollee Howes and Claire Hamilton); University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (Robert Emde, Jon Korfmacher, JoAnn Robinson, Paul Spicer, and Norman Watt); University of Kansas (Jane Atwater, Judith Carta; and Jean Ann Summers); University of Missouri-Columbia (Mark Fine, Jean Ispa, and Kathy Thornburg); University of Pittsburgh (Beth Green, Carol McAllister, and Robert McCall); University of Washington School of Education (Eduardo Armijo and Joseph Stowitschek); University of Washington School of Nursing (Kathryn Barnard and Susan Spieker), and Utah State University (Lisa Boyce, Gina Cook, Catherine Callow-Heusser, and Lori Roggman). The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jean Ispa, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia, 314 Gentry Hall, Columbia, MO 65211. Electronic mail may be sent to


The present study investigated the extent to which maternal intrusiveness and warmth during play, observed in 579 European American, 412 African American, and 110 more and 131 less acculturated Mexican American low-income families when children were approximately 15 months old, predicted 3 dimensions of the mother–toddler relationship 10 months later. Intrusiveness predicted increases in later child negativity in all 4 groups. Among African Americans only, this association was moderated by maternal warmth. Intrusiveness predicted negative change in child engagement with mothers only in European American families. Finally, near-significant trends suggested that intrusiveness predicted later decreased dyadic mutuality in European American and more acculturated Mexican American families, but not in African American or less acculturated Mexican American families.