Sympathetic nervous system functioning during the face-to-face still-face paradigm in the first year of life

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Contemporary theories of early development and emerging child psychopathology all posit a major, if not central role for physiological responsiveness. To understand infants' potential risk for emergent psychopathology, consideration is needed to both autonomic reactivity and environmental contexts (e.g., parent-child interactions). The current study maps infants' arousal during the face-to-face still-face paradigm using skin conductance (n = 255 ethnically-diverse mother-infant dyads; 52.5% girls, mean infant age = 7.4 months; SD = 0.9 months). A novel statistical approach was designed to model the potential build-up of nonlinear counter electromotive force over the course of the task. Results showed a significant increase in infants' skin conductance between the Baseline Free-play and the Still-Face phase, and a significant decrease in skin conductance during the Reunion Play when compared to the Still-Face phase. Skin conductance during the Reunion Play phase remained significantly higher than during the Baseline Play phase; indicating that infants had not fully recovered from the mild social stressor. These results further our understanding of infant arousal during dyadic interactions, and the role of caregivers in the development of emotion regulation during infancy.

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Development and psychopathology

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