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Mutual influences between child emotion regulation and parent–child reciprocity support development across the first 10 years of life: Implications for developmental psychopathology

  • Ruth Feldman (a1)


Elucidating the mechanisms by which infant birth conditions shape development across lengthy periods is critical for understanding typical and pathological development and for targeted early interventions. This study examined how newborns' regulatory capacities impact 10-year outcomes via the bidirectional influences of child emotion regulation (ER) and reciprocal parenting across early development. Guided by dynamic systems theory, 125 infants were tested at seven time points: birth, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months and 5 and 10 years. Initial regulatory conditions were measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; vagal tone) and neurobehavioral regulation (Brazelton, 1973) at birth. At each assessment between 3 months and 5 years, infant ER was microcoded from age-appropriate paradigms and mother–child reciprocity observed during social interactions. Four regulation-related outcomes were measured at 10 years: child RSA, empathy measured by mother–child conflict discussion and a lab paradigm, accident proneness, and behavior problems. An autoregressive cross-lagged structural model indicated that infant birth conditions impacted 10-year outcomes via three mechanisms. First, child ER and reciprocal parenting were individually stable across development and were each predicted by regulatory birth conditions, describing gradual maturation of ER and reciprocity over time. Second, better ER skills at one time point were related to greater reciprocity at the next time point and vice versa, and these cross-time effects defined a field of individual-context mutual influences that mediated the links between neonatal RSA and 10-year outcomes. Third, direct associations emerged between neonatal regulation and outcome, suggesting that birth conditions may establish a neurobiological milieu that promotes a more mature and resilient system. These mechanisms describe distinct “attractor” states that constrain the system's future options, emphasize the importance of defining behavior-based phenotypes of heterotypic continuity, and suggest that infants may shape their development by initiating unique cascades of individual-context bidirectional effects.

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Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ruth Feldman, Department of Psychology and the Gonda Brain Sciences Center, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel 52900; E-mail:


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Mutual influences between child emotion regulation and parent–child reciprocity support development across the first 10 years of life: Implications for developmental psychopathology

  • Ruth Feldman (a1)


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