Social stress regulation in 4-month-old infants: Contribution of maternal social engagement and infants' 5-HTTLPR genotype

Rosario Montirosso, Livio Provenzi, Daniela Tavian, Francesco Morandi, Andrea Bonanomi, Sara Missaglia, Ed Tronick, Renato Borgatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Maternal behavior and infant 5-HTTLPR polymorphism have been linked to infants' social stress reactivity and recovery at different ages. Nonetheless, Gene. ×. Environment (G. ×. E) studies focusing on early infancy are rare and have led to mixed results. Aim: To investigate the contribution of maternal social engagement and infants' 5-HTTLPR polymorphism in predicting infants' negative emotionality in response to a social stressor, namely maternal unresponsiveness. Study design: Cross-sectional, G. ×. E study. Subjects: 73 4-month-old infants and their mothers took part to the Face-to-Face Still-Face (FFSF) procedure. Outcome measures: A micro-analytical coding of negative emotionality was adopted to measure infants' reactivity to social stress (Still-Face episode) and infants' recovery after social stress (Reunion episode). Maternal contribution was measured as maternal social engagement during the Play episode. Infants were genotyped as S-carriers or L-homozygotes. Results: The interplay between maternal social engagement and infants' genotype was found to be predictive of infants' negative emotionality during both Still-Face and Reunion episodes of the FFSF paradigm. The interaction highlighted that maternal social engagement predicted minor negative emotionality during Still-Face and Reunion episodes for S-carrier infants, but not for L-homozygotes. Conclusions: Findings extend previous results on adults and children, highlighting that maternal behavior might be a protective factor for stress reactivity and regulation, especially for S-carrier infants who are at risk for heightened stress susceptibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-179
Number of pages7
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2015


  • 5-HTTLPR
  • G×E study
  • Mother-infant interaction
  • Social stress
  • Still-face

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Medicine(all)


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