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Maternal Expressions of Positive Emotion for Children Predicts Children’s Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia Surrounding Stress


Background: Emotional well-being and the quality of the parent-child bond are robust predictors of cardiovascular functionality and stress responses, and thus may have important implications for health outcomes. The aim of the current study is to assess whether positive emotional exchanges (i.e., emotion coregulation) within the mother-child dyad play a protective role in children’s stress responses. Specifically, we test whether positive emotion coregulation among mothers and their preschool-aged children is associated with children’s respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; a marker of heart rate variability) at rest or over the course of a stressful experience. Method: One hundred mother-child dyads (Mchildage = 3.5 years) participated in a standardized laughing task in which positive emotional constructs were measured. Children also participated in a frustration task without the mother present while RSA was continuously monitored. Results: Hierarchical linear regressions revealed that greater mother positive emotional response to child was associated with child baseline and stress recovery RSA, but not with children’s RSA during the frustrating task. Exploratory analyses reveal that this effect is partially due to mother, but not child, overall positivity. Findings held in serial analyses in which we controlled for children’s overall positive affect (PA) and children’s positive affect (PA) in response to mothers but not when we controlled for mother’s overall PA. Conclusion: Positive emotion coregulation is associated with children’s resting RSA as well as RSA recovery from a frustrating task.

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