A comparison of maternal sensitivity and verbal stimulation as unique predictors of infant social-emotional and cognitive development

Infant Behav Dev. 2010 Feb;33(1):101-10. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.12.001. Epub 2010 Jan 20.


Although maternal sensitivity has been shown to influence social-emotional development, the role of verbal stimulation on infant developmental outcomes has received less exploration. Recent research has focused on intentional behaviors within the context of a mother-infant interaction as a critical influence and as distinct from sensitivity. In this investigation 6377 mother-infant dyads participated in a teaching task as part of the sample from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). Analyses focused in deciphering the role of maternal sensitivity and verbal stimulation as contributors to the infant's social-emotional (S-E) and cognitive (Cog) development. We further hypothesized that inclusion of infant age as a moderator of maternal behaviors would illuminate any differences between younger and older infants.

Results: For the infant's S-E development, our hypothesis that maternal sensitivity would be a stronger predictor than verbal stimulation was not supported; nor did we find support for our hypothesis that the association would be moderated by age. For Cog development, only verbal stimulation had a direct positive effect on the infant's cognitive ability; our findings for moderation showed that mothers spoke more to older infants than younger infants.

Conclusion: Identification of specific maternal behaviors associated with infant outcomes informs the child development field, and also provides strategies for early intervention to assist mothers with developing or maintaining a consistent relationship that includes sensitivity and verbal stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Reference Values
  • Regression Analysis
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Social Perception*
  • Verbal Behavior*
  • Young Adult