Mother-toddler intersubjectivity as a contributor to emotion understanding at age 4
Klimenko, Marina A.
MetadataShow full item record
Intersubjectivity is a process of shared understanding between mother and child expressed through both verbal and nonverbal channels. Verbal and nonverbal intersubjective processes can be better understood in terms of their structures and contents. Emotion understanding plays a critical role in their social and emotional adjustment. Developmental literature emphasizes caregiver-child relationships as an essential element in the development of emotion understanding. However, the underlying mechanisms by which caregiver-child relationships contribute to individual differences in emotion understanding have not been adequately addressed. The present study was an attempt to examine the contribution of mother-toddler nonverbal and verbal intersubjectivity to children’s emotion understanding. Seventy-nine children and their mothers participated in the present study. At age 2½, mothers and their toddlers read two wordless books depicting emotional themes. The book reading interaction was videotaped and used to derive indices of nonverbal and verbal intersubjectivity. Nonverbal and verbal intersubjectivity was measured in terms of the structure (i.e., affective synchrony and verbal alignment) and the content (i.e., positive and negative affective matching, and shared emotional semantics and experiences of positive and negative valence ). At age 4, children were tested on emotion recognition and emotion knowledge test. Child gender and age served as the covariates in all analyses. Results confirmed the two main hypotheses that both nonverbal and verbal intersubjectivity contributed to children’s emotion understanding. Affective synchrony was the significant nonverbal predictor of emotion understanding. This relationship was nonlinear, with a U-shaped quadratic pattern. Specifically, lower and higher affective synchrony scores were likely to be associated with greater emotion recognition in children. Shared emotional semantics emerged as the significant predictor of overall emotion understanding. Verbal alignment equally contributed to emotion knowledge of negative and positive valence. Furthermore, shared semantics of positive and negative valence equally predicted emotion knowledge of negative and positive valence. However, shared semantics of positive valence had a stronger contribution to overall emotion knowledge. The present study highlights both nonverbal and verbal processes of communication between mother and child and their unique role in the development of emotion understanding.