Mothers' and Fathers' Mental State Talk: Ethnicity, Partner Talk, and Sensitivity

The Family Life Project Key Investigators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objective: The current study examined the contributions of cultural and economic contexts and family, child, and parent characteristics to explain variation within and between mothers' and fathers' mental state talk (i.e., cognition, desire, modulation of assertion, and other mental state talk) to their 6-month-old infants. Background: Growing evidence supports the importance of mental state talk for children, yet few studies have examined factors that might contribute to this type of verbal input. Method: In a sample of 582 African American and European American mothers and 582 African American and European American fathers living in low-wealth rural areas, we explored the extent to which cultural context (ethnicity), economic context (income), family characteristics (partners' use of mental state talk), child characteristics (gender, attention, distress to novelty), and parent characteristics (parental sensitivity) contribute to mothers' and fathers' use of mental state talk in a series of multilevel models. Results: Results suggest that parental sensitivity was positively associated with mental state talk for both mothers and fathers, and child attention was positively associated with mental state talk for mothers with significant but small effect sizes. Fathers' mental state talk contributed positively to mothers' mental state talk, but this was true only for African American families. Conclusion: Our identified main effects and significant interaction enhance our understanding of factors that contribute to mothers' and fathers' mental state talk with their preverbal infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • communication
  • family processes
  • fathers
  • mothers
  • parenting
  • parent–child relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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