Parental negative emotions are related to behavioral and pupillary correlates of infants' attention to facial expressions of emotion

Evin Aktar, Dorothy J. Mandell, Wieke de Vente, Mirjana Majdandzic, Frans J. Oort, Daan R. van Renswoude, Maartje E. J. Raijmakers, Susan M. Bogels

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Previous evidence revealed links between maternal negative emotions and infants
’ attention to facial expressions of emotion in clinical and community samples. This study investigated the associations between infants’ attention to emotional faces and infants’ and parents’ negative emotions in a community sample. Infants
’ (N= 57,M age= 14.26 months) fixations and pupil responses to fearful, sad, angry versus happy and neutral faces were measured with an eye-tracker. Mothers’ and fathers’ negative emotions (negative affect, depression, and anxiety), and infants’ negative temperament were measured with questionnaires. Infants looked longer at fearful than happy or neutral faces, while they showed less pupil dilation to fearful than to happy or neutral faces. Higher levels of maternal negative emotions were related to less pupillary arousal to emotional facial expressions in infants, while paternal negative emotions did not
predict infants’ pupil responses. Exploratory analyses suggested a significant link between paternal but not maternal negative emotions and infants’ fixations that was moderated by infant negative temperament: Higher levels of negative emotions in fathers were related to longer fixations in children with high levels of negative temperament, while it was related to shorter fixations in infants with low levels of negative temperament. The findings provide support for the
idea that exposure to mothers’ and fathers’ negative emotions play a role on the development of infants’ attention to facial expressions in typical development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-111
Number of pages10
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Early online date20 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Depression
  • Emotion
  • Infancy
  • Parents
  • Pupillometry


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