Affect Regulation and Synchrony in Mother-Infant Play as Precursors to the Development of Symbolic Competence

Ruth Feldman, Charles W. Greenbaum

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126 Scopus citations


This study examines relationships between organizing processes of affective communication in infancy and the development of symbolic competence. Thirty six mother-infant dyads were observed at 3 and 9 months, and 32 dyads were reassessed at 24 months. Mother's and infant affective states during face-to-face play at 3 and 9 months were coded in .25-second frames. The underlying structure of infant affect and the time-lag synchrony between mother and infant affective states were assessed with time-series analyses. In addition, interactions at 3 and 9 months were assessed for the global level of infant positive affect and maternal affect attunement. At 2 years, three dimensions of symbolic competence were evaluated: symbolic play, verbal IQ, and the child's use of internal states words. Infant affect regulation at 3 months, defined by the existence of a non-random, stochastic-cyclic organization of affective states, predicted all three domains of symbolic competence at 2 years. Maternal synchrony and attunement each had an independent contribution to the prediction of symbolic play and internal state talk. The microanalytic and global indices of affect each added meaningfully to the prediction of symbolic functioning. The organization of behavioral sequences into coherent affective configurations is discussed as a possible precursor to the general capacity to develop symbols.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-23
Number of pages20
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997


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