Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Steven Tuber

Committee Members

Arietta Slade

Beatrice Beebe

Diana Punales

Molly Nozyce

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology


Infancy, mother-infant, vocal rhythm coordination, self- and interactive contingency, prematurity, premature infants


The contemporary bio-psycho-social view of mother-infant relationships holds that early interactions form the foundation of the growing infant’s sense of himself and the world. Prior to the development of linguistically-based communication, nonverbal communication patterns foster the infant’s socio-emotional growth, cognitive capacity and the development of optimal regulatory patterns. Preterm birth significantly alters the typical developmental trajectory on multiple levels and disrupts normal neurobiological and socio-emotional maturational processes, including those that build on early interpersonal experiences with caregivers. The current study of vocal rhythm coordination in preterm mother-infant dyads is the first of its kind. Aspects of infant prematurity (degree of prematurity, infant autonomic maturity, neurobehavioral regulatory capacity) and aspects of maternal influence (including the quality of maternal caregiving and maternal depression and anxiety) were examined in relation to vocal rhythm coordination outcomes at infant age 4 months (CA). Multi-level time-series models were used to generate infant and mother vocal rhythm self-contingency (self-predictability, a form of self-regulation) and vocal rhythm interactive contingency (the degree to which each individual predictably adjusted to the vocal rhythms of the partner). For interactive contingency, results demonstrated that mothers and preterm infants coordinated the duration of pauses and switching pauses (at the turn exchange), indicating that the basic temporal and organizational mechanisms required for interpersonal vocal coordination were in place for this group. Bidirectional coordination was found for mothers’ and infants’ switching pause; unidirectional coordination was present for mothers’ pause. For self-contingency, results demonstrated that both preterm infants and their mothers showed significant self-contingency, indicating that both preterm infants and their mothers were firmly self-rooted, that is, predictable from their own prior behavior. As hypothesized, both infant influences and mother influences contributed to vocal rhythm coordination at 4 months (CA). Infant sex, birthweight, neonatal neurobehavioral regulatory capacity and concurrent vagal tone predicted mother-infant vocal coordination at 4 months (CA). Mothers’ age, ethnicity, and depression and anxiety symptoms at hospital discharge also contributed to vocal coordination at 4 months (CA). Viewed in conjunction with prior vocal rhythm research on term infants, these new findings may be able to aid in the assessment and early intervention of preterm infant dyads that may be at risk for less optimal cognitive and relational outcomes.