UEL Baby Dev Lab

Needing to shout to be heard? Affective dysregulation, caregiver under-responsivity, and disconnection between vocal signalling and autonomic arousal in infants from chaotic households

Wass, S., Goupil, L., Smith, C., & Greenwood, E. 2021. PsyArXiv

Higher levels of household chaos have been related to increased child affect dysregulation during later development. To understand why this relationship emerges, we used miniature wearable microphones and autonomic monitors to obtain day-long recordings in home settings from a cohort of N=74 12-month-old infants and their caregivers from the South-East of the UK. Our findings suggest a disconnect between what infants communicate and their physiological arousal levels, that are likely to reflect what they experience. Specifically, in households which families self-reported as being more chaotic, infants were more likely to produce negative affect vocalisations such as cries at lower levels of arousal. This disconnection between signalling and autonomic arousal was also present in a lab still face procedure, where infants from more chaotic households showed reduced change in facial affect and slower physiological recovery despite equivalent change in arousal during the still face episode. Finally, we found that this disconnect between what infants communicate and their physiological arousal levels may influence the likelihood of a caregiver responding. Implications for understanding the mechanisms underlying the relationship between household chaos, emotion dysregulation and caregiver under-responsivity are discussed.