Maternal frustration, emotional and behavioural responses to prolonged infant crying

Infant Behav Dev. 2014 Nov;37(4):652-64. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2014.08.012. Epub 2014 Sep 19.


Prolonged inconsolable crying bouts in the first months of life are frustrating to parents and may lead to abuse. There is no empirical description of frustration trajectories during prolonged crying, nor of their emotional predictors or emotional and behavioural sequelae. Frustration responses and their relationships were explored in an analogue cry listening paradigm. Without knowing how long it would last, 111 postpartum mothers were randomized to listen to a 10-min audiotape of infant crying or cooing while continuously recording frustration on a visual analogue 'slider' scale. The listening bout was preceded by questionnaires on negative mood, trait anger and empathy and followed by questionnaires on the reality of the cry sound, positive and negative emotions, soothing strategies, coping strategies and urges to comfort and flee. Individual frustration trajectories were modelled parametrically and characterized by frustration maximum, rate of rise, inflections and harmonicity parameters. As hypothesized, the modal response was of gradually increasing frustration throughout. However, there were marked individual differences in frustration trajectories. Negative mood, trait anger and empathy did not predict modal or modelled individual trajectories. However, frustration responses were significantly related to post-listening emotions and behavioural ratings. In particular, prolonged crying generated highly ambivalent positive and negative emotional responses. In summary, maternal frustration generally increased as the crying bout progressed; however, frustration trajectories were highly individual and emotional responses were highly ambivalent in terms of positive and negative emotions generated. Some emotional and behavioural responses were associated with specific trajectory parameters of frustration responses.

Keywords: Caregiving; Crying; Emotions; Frustration; Mother-infant interaction.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crying / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Frustration*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / physiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests