Contextual Influences on Concordance Between Maternal Report and Laboratory Observation of Toddler Fear

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Emotion and temperament researchers have faced an enduring issue of how to best measure children’s tendencies to express specific emotions. Inconsistencies between laboratory observation and parental report have made it challenging for researchers to determine the utility of these different forms of measurement. The current study examined the effect of laboratory episode characteristics (i.e., threat level of the episode, maternal involvement) on concordance between maternal report and laboratory observation of toddler fear. The sample included 111 mother-toddler dyads who participated in a laboratory assessment when toddlers were approximately 24 months old. Toddler fear was assessed both via maternal report and observation from a number of laboratory episodes that varied in their level of threat and whether mothers were free or constrained in their involvement in the task. Results indicated that maternal report related to the observed fear composites for low threat, but not high threat episodes. On the contrary, maternal involvement in the laboratory episodes did not moderate the relation between maternal report and laboratory observation of fear. These results suggest that the threat level of laboratory episodes designed to elicit fear, but not maternal involvement in these episodes, may be important to take into consideration when assessing their relation to maternal report of fear and fearful temperament.

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