This is a post about an article first-authored by my PhD student Celia Smith, with Tony Charman and Emily Jones. You can read the full article here.
Most researchers in psychopathology are researching conditions that they’re interested in because they have it themselves, to a greater or lesser degree. And there’s definitely no doubt that I’m interested in stress contagion because in my family when one person starts shouting, EVERYONE starts shouting!
Celia has been looking at some of the mechanisms that underlie stress contagion. She has been concentrating particularly on parents with mildly elevated anxiety, recruited from a community sample. Her previous paper suggested that, overall, anxious parents show higher physiological synchrony with their infants – and suggested that one reason why this might be is because anxious parents are more likely to over-react to small-scale fluctuations in their child’s arousal.
This current paper looks in more detail at why this is, and what the effects on the child are. She looked particularly at child-directed parent vocalisations – and how they relate to physiological stress and vocal intensity. It turns out that more anxious caregivers are more likely to vocalise intensely to their child at times when they are more aroused. And, whereas in less anxious parents, these periods of high intensity vocalisations come and go quite fast, in more anxious parents they take longer to build up, and fade away. Finally, the direct effect of high intensity vocalisations on the child’s arousal is higher in families where the parent is anxious – which might be to do with differences in the content of what they’re saying, or to do with differences in the child themselves.
Anyway – all interesting uncharted territory! And useful, we think, for future intervention work… You can read the whole paper here.