The Role of Executive Functions in Facilitating Soothing Behavior During Interactions with a Simulated Distressed Infant
Laws, Katie M.
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Prior work has noted the importance of parenting for supporting the development of emotion regulation in infants/children. The goal of this study was to examine the influence of adult EF on behavioral responses to infant distress. The current investigation used a novel methodological approach, the infant simulator paradigm (ISIM), to evaluate the effects of participant EF on soothing behavior during interactions with an inconsolable, simulated infant. Given the importance ofEF in regulation of behavior, it was predicted that participants with lower EF would engage in fewer soothing behaviors (i.e., sensitive vocalizations, soothing touch, distracting, and caretaking efforts) than participants with higher EF. Non-parent college students participated in a laboratory interaction with the ISIM. Participants also completed the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, and two Stroop-like tasks which assessed aspects ofEF. Following a demonstration, participants interacted with the inconsolable ISIM. Interactions were video/audio recorded and later coded for targeted soothing behaviors. Kappa's for each behavioral code ranged from .70 to .92 (M= .78). Regression analyses controlling for gender and prior care giving experience indicated that greater EF difficulties predicted less frequent use of soothing vocalizations. A trend in the expected direction was also found such that greater difficulties with inhibitory control were associated with fewer distraction attempts. The findings have implications for intervention work such that the efficacy of parenting interventions may be enhanced by considering caregiver EF, as those with EF difficulties may need more intensive, practice oriented interventions. Keywords: Executive functions, soothing behavior