The preterm infant and mother as social partners : infant responsiveness and maternal folk theories

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



It has been repeatedly documented that during mother-infant inter- action, mothers of pre-term infants exhibit higher rates of stimulation than do mothers of full-term infants. The present research explored characteristics of mother and infant which may contribute to this pattern. In Study 1, pre-term and full-term infants were compared on two dimensions of neonatal behavior thought to elicit heightened maternal activity: (1) lesser positive responsiveness and (2) greater irritability or drowsiness. Further, the pre-term sample was divided into two groups (mildly ill, moderately ill) to explore the impact of severity of neonatal medical complications on infant behavior. Assessment of neonatal responsiveness included orientation items and ratings of alertness and state control adapted from the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Assessment Scale. Pre-terms exhibited less mature visual tracking of moving stimuli than full-terms but showed similar optimal responsiveness to an animate visual and auditory stimulus. Within the pre-term sample, the two illness groups did not differ on any measure. In Study 2, variations in maternal folk theories about special needs of pre-terms were explored. Mothers of mildly ill and moderately ill pre-terms were compared on three sets of attitudes thought to affect maternal stimulation during interaction- -Vigilance, Protection, and Developmental Expectations. Vigilance refers to providing attention, monitoring behavior, and worry about future development. Protection reflects a view of the infant as vulnerable and fragile. Pre-term mothers were also compared to full-term mothers on expectations for infant achievement of cognitive and motoric milestones. Mothers of moderately ill pre-terms expressed more Vigilance attitudes than mothers of mildly ill pre-terms; no difference in Protection attitudes were found. Mothers of pre-terms expected delayed motoric development more frequently than mothers of full-terms. The implications of the findings from these studies for hypotheses about the origins of the high maternal activity pattern were discussed.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



Published Version (Please cite this version)


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.