Quantitatively Representing Real-Time Emotion Dynamics: Attachment-Based Differences in Mothers' Emotion Experiences

Jennifer A. Somers, Margaret L. Kerr, Daniel McNeish, Patricia A. Smiley, Katherine V. Buttitta, Hannah F. Rasmussen, Jessica L. Borelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Given inconsistent findings emerging in the literature between motherhood and emotional well-being, it is important to employ cutting-edge methods to evaluate mothers' dynamic emotional experiences. As anticipated by theory, attachment anxiety and avoidance may uniquely predict fluctuations in mothers' positive emotion, which may be yoked in particular to 2 aspects of their experiences: their emotional closeness with their children and their perceptions of their children's positive emotion. In the current study, 144 mothers (41% Hispanic) of young children (mean [M] = 20.9 months) reported on their positive emotion, closeness/distance with their children, and perceptions of their children's positive emotion, up to 5 times per day for 10 days. We fit a dynamic structural equation model (DSEM) in order to evaluate attachment-based differences in mothers' emotional equilibrium (i.e., mean levels of positive emotion), intraindividual volatility in positive emotion, within-person emotional inertia, and cross-lagged emotion processes over time. Attachment anxiety was related to lower average maternal positive emotion ratings and to greater volatility in mothers' positive emotion and emotional closeness/distance. Attachment avoidance was related to higher average ratings of emotional distance, stronger inertia in mothers' positive emotion, and weaker inertia in mothers' emotional distance. Among mothers who were higher on attachment avoidance, emotional distance was related to greater subsequent feelings of positive emotion and perceived child positive emotion. The results are aligned with theory and have specific implications for attachment-informed parenting interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2019


  • Attachment
  • Dynamic structural equation model
  • Motherhood
  • Time series

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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