Neurophysiological and Behavioral Dynamics of Emotion in Mothers of Young Children

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Hajal, Nastassia Josephine
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 04, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Dissertation Advisor
  • Douglas Michael Teti, Committee Chair
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Nilam Ram, Committee Member
  • Jennifer Elise Graham Engeland, Committee Member
  • Parenting
  • emotion
  • emotion regulation
  • coping
  • ecological momentary assessment
Parenting infants and toddlers is inherently intertwined with emotion. Conceptualizing emotion as a complex, contextually driven process consisting of appraisals, action readiness, and regulation, this study investigated how mothers of young children experience and regulate their own emotions in the context of challenging parenting situations. The study drew upon the benefits of two complementary methodologies: electroencephalogram (EEG) provided an index of mothers’ action readiness at the neurophysiological level (N = 101), while ecological momentary assessment (EMA) captured emotions at the phenomenological level (n = 55). Relations among mothers’ self-reported emotions, action readiness, and regulation in day-to-day life (measured by EMA) were generally in line with functional emotion theory; however, some exceptions provided support for the notion that emotion must be studied in context. Mothers’ emotion regulation in the face of naturally-arising challenging situations with their 14- to 24-month-olds (measured by EMA) was associated with their experiences of positive and negative emotions in the moment of the challenge and with their general, more “trait-like” emotional states. Activity in the frontal cortex in response to videos of infants in distress at 6-8 months (measured by EEG) was associated with emotion regulation during evocative parenting situations when children were in the second year of life (measured by EMA). Taken together, the findings begin to paint a picture of how parents experience and regulate emotions in the context of a relationship in which they are responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of their children as well as of themselves. Further research in this area has the potential to inform interventions for at-risk families.