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Vocal emotion expressions in infant‐directed singing: The impact of war trauma and maternal mental health and the consequences on infant development

Abstract Maternal singing is considered vital to infant well‐being. This study focuses on vocal emotion expressions in infant‐directed singing among mothers in war conditions. It examines the questions: (a) how traumatic war events and mental health problems are associated with the content and valence of vocal emotion expressions and (b) how these emotion expressions are associated with infant development. The vocal material consists of songs sung by 50 Palestinian mothers who participated at delivery (T1) as well as when their infants were 6 (T2) and 18 (T3) months of age. These mothers reported traumatic war events (T1); depressive and post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms (T2–T3); and infants' emotional, sensorimotor, and cognitive development (T2–T3). Student judges evaluated the valence and content of vocal emotion expressions in maternal infant‐directed singing (playfulness‐vivacity, fear, joy, sadness, love‐tenderness, anger, and tension). Severe traumatic war events and depressive symptoms were associated with low positive and high negative vocal emotion expressions. High levels of playfulness and joy, as well as low levels of fear and tension, were associated with infant positive affectivity, while low levels of fear, anger, and tension were associated with advanced infant language skills. Discussion focuses on the vocal markers of maternal mental health and infant development. Highlights How are maternal war trauma and mental health problems (symptoms of depression and post‐traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]) associated with the valence and content of mothers' vocal emotion expressions when they sing to their infants? How are the maternal vocal emotion expressions associated with infant emotional and sensorimotor development? Methodologically, the study involved cultural in‐ and out‐group judges to evaluate maternal vocal emotion expressions. The vocal material consisted of song excerpts of 50 Palestinian women from the Gaza strip, which is sung in Arabic. War trauma was photodocumented; mothers reported their symptoms of depression and PTSD; and infant emotion development by the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (IBQ), sensorimotor development, is based on the Bayley test. Maternal vocal emotion expression in infant‐directed singing can provide a marker for her mental health in transition to parenthood. Further, valence and content of infant‐directed singing are vital for infant emotional and sensorimotor development.

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