Socioemotional Mechanisms of Children’s Differential Response to the Effects of Maternal Sensitivity on Child Adjustment

Jennifer A. Somers, Linda J. Luecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


SYNOPSIS: Objective. Children differ in the extent to which they reap the benefits of maternal sensitive care or suffer the adverse consequences of insensitive care, and these differences can be accounted for by biological characteristics. However, how susceptible children adapt to maternal sensitivity in ways that either maximize positive development or lead to maladjustment has yet to be determined. Here, we propose a novel model of socioemotional mechanisms by which the joint influences of maternal sensitivity and child biological characteristics influence child adjustment. Design. We propose a theoretical model, in which children’s vagal functioning and polymorphisms in serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) and dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) genes confer susceptibility to the effects of maternal sensitivity on internalizing, externalizing, prosocial and moral behavior via changes in interpersonal strategies for emotion regulation, the threat response system, and empathy. Results. Theoretical and empirical support for the proposed mechanisms are provided. Conclusions. The proposed mechanistic model of susceptibility to maternal sensitivity offers a novel framework of for whom and how children are affected by early maternal care, highlighting multiple reciprocal, interacting influences across genes, physiology, behavior, and the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-275
Number of pages35
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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