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24-02-2015 | Uitgave 4/2015

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 4/2015

Dyadic Attunement and Physiological Synchrony During Mother-Child Interactions: An Exploratory Study in Children With and Without Externalizing Behavior Problems

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment > Uitgave 4/2015
Steven Woltering, Victoria Lishak, Brittney Elliott, Leonardo Ferraro, Isabela Granic
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s10862-015-9480-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


We investigated whether synchrony at a physiological level (i.e., real-time correspondence of biological indices between two individuals) related to observed levels of dyadic attunement (i.e., levels of connectedness, joint attention, and reciprocity), and whether these measures could distinguish between mother-child dyads with and without clinical levels of externalizing behavioral problems. Eighty-three clinical and 35 nonclinical dyads (7–12 years-old) discussed a contentious topic preceded and followed by a positive topic while their heart rates were recorded. Changes in dyadic attunement from the last discussion relative to the first were taken as an index of how well dyads ‘repaired’ their relationship. Results showed that clinical dyads had lower levels of dyadic attunement across all discussions compared to nonclinical dyads. Evidence that physiological synchrony could distinguish clinical from nonclinical dyads, however, was merely suggestive. Physiological synchrony was sensitive to the emotional context of the discussions as more dyads demonstrated physiological synchrony in the last compared to the first discussion. Moreover, dyads who demonstrated physiological synchrony also showed higher levels of repair. The outcomes of this study suggest that physiological synchrony between mothers and their children is sensitive to emotional context during interactions, and particularly during periods of repair when dyads more actively reconnect with each other after a negative interaction.

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