Relations between Infant Irritability and Maternal Responsiveness
in Low_Income Families

Elizabeth B. Owens, Daniel S. Shaw, and Joan I. Vondra

University of Pittsburgh

Published in Infant Behavior and Development, 21(4), 761_777.



The authors wish to thank Emily Winslow and Kirsten Yaggi for their help, and the mothers and children who generously donated their time participating in our project. This study was supported by grants from NIMH to Daniel Shaw (#MH46925) and Joan Vondra (#MH46455). Requests for reprints should be sent to the first author at: Clinical Psychology Center, 604 OEH, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260. Portions of this paper were presented in: Owens, E. B., & Shaw, D. S. (1998, April), Relations between infant irritability and maternal responsiveness in low_income families, at the International Conference on Infant Studies, Atlanta, GA.


Relations between infant irritability and maternal responsiveness at 12 and 18 months were investigated in low_income mother_infant dyads. Emphasis was placed on whether results varied according to measurement strategies, infant gender, or level of maternal social support and satisfaction with that support. Irritability was measured separately through observation and maternal report, responsiveness was measured observationally, and maternal social support and satisfaction were self reported via questionnaire. Concurrent relations between irritability and responsiveness were, in general, negative and were larger when irritability was measured observationally rather than by maternal report. Correlations were similar across gender. No longitudinal relations were found between irritability and responsiveness. Amount of maternal social support was weakly related to responsiveness and to responses to infant irritability, and the nature of these relations was unexpected. Irritability_responsiveness relations varied as a function of measurement strategies, which may in part explain mixed findings in the empirical literature.