British Journal of Psychology

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The role of sustained attention, maternal sensitivity, and infant temperament in the development of early self‐regulation

This study investigated infant predictors of early cognitive and emotional self‐regulation from an intrinsic and caregiving environmental perspective. Sustained attention, reactive aspects of infant temperament, and maternal sensitivity were assessed at 10 months (= 124) and early self‐regulation (including executive functions, EF, and emotion regulation) was assessed at 18 months. The results indicated that sustained attention predicted early EF, which provide empirical support for the hierarchical framework of EF development, advocating early attention as a foundation for the development of cognitive self‐regulation. Maternal sensitivity and surgency predicted emotion regulation, in that infants of sensitive mothers showed more regulatory behaviours and a longer latency to distress, whereas high levels of surgency predicted low emotion regulation, suggesting both the caregiving environment and temperament as important in the development of self‐regulation. Interaction effects suggested high sustained attention to be a protective factor for children of insensitive mothers, in relation to emotion regulation. In addition, high levels of maternal sensitivity seemed to foster development of emotion regulation among children with low to medium levels of sustained attention and/or surgency. In all, our findings point to the importance of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors in infant development of self‐regulation.

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