The relationship between temperament and anxiety: Maternal representations of infant distress as a moderator

Open Access
Shaner, Julia Grace
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kenneth Levy, Honors Advisor
  • anxiety
  • temperament
  • maternal representations
  • infant distress
Background: Children with behavioral inhibition, a type of temperament, are more likely to develop anxiety later in life and are more likely to have parents with anxiety disorders, but the genetic and environmental mechanisms of this relationship are not well understood. Parental representations of themselves and their children have been examined in relation to attachment. However, parental representations have not been studied in relation to the development of anxiety or temperament in children. In addition, parental representations of infant distress, specifically, have not been studied in any published research to date. This study, using an adoption design, examines the genetic relationship between temperament and anxiety by measuring distress to novelty in children and anxiety in birth mothers. Maternal representations of infant distress are also examined for a moderating influence on the relationship between temperament and anxiety. Results: No relationship was found between child distress to novelty and birth mother anxiety. There were significant relationships between adoptive maternal representations of infant distress and child distress to novelty, but these were entirely explained by the interaction between representations of distress (care) and the presence of birth mother anxiety. When there was no birth mother anxiety, adoptive maternal representations of infant distress were not related to child distress to novelty.