UEL Baby Dev Lab

Vocalization and physiological hyperarousal in infant–caregiver dyads where the caregiver has elevated anxiety

Smith, C. G., Jones, E. J., Charman, T., Clackson, K., Mirza, F. U., & Wass, S. V. 2023. Development and Psychopathology

Co-regulation of physiological arousal within the caregiver–child dyad precedes later self-regulation within the individual. Despite the importance of unimpaired self-regulatory development for later adjustment outcomes, little is understood about how early co-regulatory processes
can become dysregulated during early life. Aspects of caregiver behavior, such as patterns of anxious speech, may be one factor influencing
infant arousal dysregulation. To address this, we made day-long, naturalistic biobehavioral recordings in home settings in caregiver–infant
dyads using wearable autonomic devices and miniature microphones. We examined the association between arousal, vocalization intensity,
and caregiver anxiety. We found that moments of high physiological arousal in infants were more likely to be accompanied by high caregiver
arousal when caregivers had high self-reported trait anxiety. Anxious caregivers were also more likely to vocalize intensely at states of high
arousal and produce intense vocalizations that occurred in clusters. High-intensity vocalizations were associated with more sustained increases
in autonomic arousal for both anxious caregivers and their infants. Findings indicate that caregiver vocal behavior differs in anxious parents,
co-occurs with dyadic arousal dysregulation, and could contribute to physiological arousal transmission. Implications for caregiver vocalization
as an intervention target are discussed.