Previous Research

This page contains the titles and abstracts of papers that have been written using data from the lab. For more information on any of these papers email us at

Father-infant interaction: 'Unpredictable' contingency & language development

Research conducted by Ada Urm, Dr Jean Quigley, & Dr Elizabeth Nixon

Presented at the XX Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies in New Orleans, Louisiana, May 26–28, 2016


Parent-infant interaction is an important proximal influence for language acquisition and development. Contingent responsiveness (conceptually dependent and temporally contiguous) (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2014) to infant communicative attempts in dyadic interaction has been shown to facilitate language development. Most studies focus on mother-infant interaction yet sensitive and cognitively stimulating interactions between fathers and their infants are also associated with developmental outcomes. In this study fathers' contingent responding in interaction with their infant was compared to mothers’ and associations with infant language development were examined.  Method:  56 English-speaking monolingual infants (M = 23.9 months, SD = 1.4) were observed in naturalistic semi-structured free-play with their mother and their father separately.  112 10-minute interactions were transcribed and infant vocalisations, parental verbal response and real-time sequencing of infant-parent behaviours were coded.  Each parental verbal response was coded for its temporal and semantic contingency in relation to the infant’s previous vocalisation. Infant language and cognitive development was measured using the Bayley III Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (BSID – III). Parents were administered the Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI) of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) III. Measures of infant language (types, tokens, type/token ratio, MLU) from parent-infant interactions were also observed. Findings: We found that there were no statistically significant differences in the amount of vocalizations infants produce with either parent or in the amount of utterances mothers and fathers produce in interactions with their infant. Analysing temporally and semantically contingent parental talk in relation to total amount of parental talk, we found that the proportion of parental utterances produced within 2 seconds of an infant vocalization that is semantically contingent on the infant’s vocalization is higher for fathers than mothers. Next multiple regression analyses were used to determine the predictors of child language outcomes (BSID - III Receptive and Expressive Language Scores & measures for infant language in interaction) after controlling for infant gender, cognitive abilities; parent and parental verbal aptitude. We found a positive predictive model for infant total amount of talk, lexical diversity and number of utterances produced in interactions. Fathers’ temporal and semantic contingency was positively related to infant language-in-interaction outcomes, even after controlling for maternal responsive behaviour and other control variables. The final models explained up to 40% of variance in infant’s total amount of words produced, lexical diversity and utterances produced. Adding parents’ responsiveness variables into the regression equation significantly increased the predictive power of the models. None of the models with parental responsiveness variables significantly predicted infant language scores on the BSID-III. Conclusion:  By engaging verbally primarily in response to the infant’s communicative bids, fathers’ speech is more salient and may be one mechanism by which infant language development is facilitated. Parental talk that is semantically appropriate and temporally linked to an infant’s vocalization predicts infant’s language production, specifically infant’s talkativeness and vocabulary diversity. Additionally we showed that father’s responsiveness explains a unique variance in infant’s language production. The inclusion of paternal semantic and temporal contingency in the regression model accounted for an additional 6 – 13 % in explaining the variation in infant’s language production scores. Further analyses are needed to explore other aspects of paternal talk in relation to infant language, to help further explain the variability in infant’s language development. 

The relationship between maternal directive utterances and child mastery motivation at 22–27 months: The role of attentional and behavioural directives

Research conducted by Eoin Howley 


The current study aimed to investigate the relationship between maternal directiveness and child mastery motivation at 22–27 months. A structured observation, correlational design was used. 45 mother-child dyads took part in a 10-minute freeplay situation in Trinity College Dublin. The children were also given a three-minute mastery task. Maternal verbal directiveness in the freeplay situation and child persistence and help-seeking behaviour in the mastery task were coded. Hypothesis 1 was that maternal rate of directives is negatively correlated with child mastery task persistence and positively correlated with help-seeking behaviour. Hypothesis 2 was that the ratio of maternal directives that follow child attention to those that lead child attention is positively correlated with mastery task persistence and negatively correlated with help-seeking behaviour. No significant correlations were found between the variables, and the null hypothesis was accepted for hypotheses 1 and 2. These findings suggest that there is no direct relationship between maternal verbal directiveness and child mastery persistence at 22–27 months. 

Child difficult temperament and its impact on maternal directiveness: A comparison between boys and girls aged 22–27 months

Research conducted by Anna Sakura Connolly


This study was designed to examine whether girls perceived as having high levels of negative affect would elicit more maternal directive behaviour than boys perceived as having high levels of negative affect. The study was carried out with 50 mother-child dyads (21 mother-son dyads and 29 mother-daughter dyads). Mothers were aged 27-42 years (M = 34.8), sons were aged 22-27 months (M = 23.38) and daughters were aged 22-26 months (M = 23.72). The Early Child Behaviour Questionnaire was filled out by parents to assess their child’s level of negative affect and mother-child free-play interactions were recorded to assess maternal directiveness. Verbal utterances in the recorded videos were coded to examine directiveness using a coding scheme developed for the current study. Results from a correlation analysis indicated non-significant relationships between gender, negative affect scores and directiveness and further results from an hierarchical regression analysis indicated that neither gender nor negative affect levels were significant predictors of directiveness. Implications, limitations and considerations for further research have also been discussed.

Associations between coparenting and father involvement involvement in two-parents families with two-year-old children 

Research conducted by Eilis O'Leary


This observational study investigated associations between coparenting and father involvement using data from 73 Irish, two-parent families, with a 2-year-old child (50.7% males). Coparenting behaviour was observed during a videoed family triadic interaction. Mothers and fathers separately reported on their perceptions of the coparenting relationship and fathers only also reported on father involvement with the child. A correlational analysis indicated that fathers’ and mothers’ perceptions of coparenting support were significantly associated with father involvement in caregiving. A multiple linear regression analysis showed that mother perceptions of coparenting support were a significant predictor of father involvement in caregiving. Fathers’ perceptions of coparenting support were also significantly associated with father statement of overall involvement. No association between coparenting and father involvement in socialisation was identified. These findings suggest coparenting perceptions may influence father involvement. The study also highlights the importance of including multiple dimensions of father involvement and coparenting behaviour when investigating the associations between coparenting and father involvement.

Parental Stress and Marital Satisfaction as Predictors of Verbal Sensitivity during Father- Child Interaction at 22-27 Months

Research conducted by Julia McGrath


Research on determinants of parenting and their outcomes often overlooks fathers, despite their valuable and unique contributions to child development. This study sought to explore the relationship between fathers’ perceived parenting stress, marital satisfaction and an objective measure of verbal sensitivity during a laboratory-setting free-play interaction with their 22-27-month-old children. Fathers’ scores on the Parenting Stress Index (PSI), and Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) were correlated with microsecond analysis of father’s verbal responses to child vocalizations, which were coded based on temporal and semantic contingency. No relationship was found between overall stress scores and verbal sensitivity. Fathersperception of having a difficult child was related to increased verbal sensitivity. No significant relationship was found between marital satisfaction and verbal sensitivity. Higher report of father-child dysfunctional interaction was related to lower report of marital satisfaction overall. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.