The ability to self-regulate is arguably the single most important skill a child develops early in life. Self-regulation skills are consistently linked to indices of health, success, and wellbeing. The predominating perspective in self-regulation developmental research has emphasized the role of the early caregiving environment, specifically maternal characteristics and behavior, in shaping infants’ emerging regulatory skills. Using two complementary studies, this dissertation draws from a longitudinal sample of 322 low-income, Mexican American mother-infant dyads to better understand mothers’ and infants’ unique roles in contributing to emerging infant regulatory processes. The first study explores the unique contributions of intrinsic (i.e., infant gaze) and extrinsic (i.e., maternal gaze) factors in understanding infant dysregulated emotion and behavior during mother-infant interactions. Using actor partner interdependent models (APIMs), the role of infant and maternal gaze in understanding infant dysregulation were examined longitudinally across three mother-infant interaction tasks (i.e., soothing, teaching, and peekaboo), as well as within task. The expected relations among gaze and dysregulation did not emerge in the longitudinal model; however, differential patterns of associations emerged by task. Findings are discussed within the intersection of risk, culture, and the dyadic interaction context.
The second study connects patterns of specific maternal behaviors (i.e., acknowledging, gaze, vocal appropriateness, appropriate range of affect, consistency of style, resourcefulness, and touch) associated with maternal sensitivity to infant cortisol reactivity and recovery. Latent profile analysis (LPA) revealed four distinct combinations of maternal sensitivity behaviors. One pattern emerged as a risk profile—differentiated by higher maternal stress—and was associated with significantly more infant cortisol recovery compared to other profiles. Both studies offer a more nuanced understanding of the respective roles of infant and maternal factors in the development of self-regulation. Further explication of developmental processes involved in early regulatory functioning has implications for advancing both scientific knowledge and improved targeting of prevention and early intervention efforts to promote optimal child outcomes, particularly in populations that at increased risk for developmental psychopathology.