Maternal responsiveness

Mother-infant interactions were observed subsequent to the acute depressive episode, when children were 6 months old. Maternal responsiveness was rated by a trained research assistant (RA) using a measure adapted by Milgrom and Burn (1988) from rating scales by Censullo, Lester, and Hoffman (1985) and by Brazelton, Koslowski, and Main (1974).

Maternal responsiveness was assessed by coding a total of 15 minutes of a videotaped play session which took place when infants were 6 months old. The play session used a standard set of toys so that the behaviour of the mothers could be compared. There is no indication in the paper of where the observation took place but, judging by the instructions to the mother, it does not appear to have taken place at home.

The RA was trained by watching 12h of tape from previous studies until 84 to 92 per cent inter-rater agreement with the author of the scale was consistently achieved. Maternal responsiveness is defined as the mothers' sensitivity in responding to infants' cues, i.e. if the infant is distressed the mother will soothe the infant.

Before coding the responsiveness of the mothers in the study, the research assistant carried out coding on 12 hours of videotape to the point where her coding was in high agreement with the author of the scale. Note that this is a different way of establishing coding reliability from that used in Paper 1 where a sample of videotapes was independently coded by a second rater and then agreement calculated. Arguably, checking inter-rater agreement by a second independent coding of the actual videotapes used in the study is a more robust way to establish coding reliability since it can be more or less difficult to code behaviour in particular studies according to the quality of the video recording and the visibility of the behaviours in question.

The higher the score the more frequently the mother responds to minimal verbal cues and is very sensitive to non-verbal messages. Responsiveness was rated for frequency of occurrence (0, <30 per cent of the time; 1, 30-60 per cent of the time, and 2, > 60 per cent of the time).

Responsiveness was rated on a 3-point scale according to how often the mother responded to infant cues. As this measure is a key part of the research it is surprising that relatively little detail is given about the rating procedure. The reference for the full rating procedure is to an unpublished thesis and so not easily accessible. It is very important, in presenting the findings from a study using ratings, to describe the categories used in detail as in Paper 1.

Five, three-minute interactions were videotaped when infants were awake and alert. The same toys were used for each play session. Mothers were asked to 'play with your baby as you would normally at home'. The dyad engaged in the play session for a few minutes prior to filming, to help them feel at ease. Efforts were made to focus the video camera on the faces of mothers and babies during the interaction, while keeping the play activity in frame.

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