Paths to compliance: Differing influences of maternal behavior in temperamentally fearful and exuberant infants

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The goal of this study was to describe the expression of compliance in temperamentally positive and negatively reactive children and the factors that contribute to individual differences in expression of compliance within and between these groups. As part of a larger project examining temperament over time, 244 infants and their mothers were evaluated at 9- and 36-months of age. At 9 months of age, maternal responsiveness and sensitivity (see Kochanska, 1998) were evaluated and infants underwent the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery (Lab-TAB; Goldsmith and Rothbart, 1999), while mothers and infants were jointly evaluated for expression of mutually positive affect (Kochanska, 1998). At 36 months, maternal discipline and child compliance were observed in the home (see Kochanska & Aksan, 1995).

Regardless of temperament, children displayed more situational compliance during a forbidden toy paradigm as compared to a clean-up context. During forbidden toy, temperamentally positive children displayed more situational compliance than their negative counterparts, while no such differences were found during clean-up. Structural equation modeling techniques revealed differential contributors to the display of compliance based on child temperament and context of interaction. During clean-up, no direct contributors to the display of compliance were found for temperamentally positive children; however avoidant behavior on the part of the child led to suboptimal maternal behavior. For temperamentally negative children, approach behaviors were associated with more optimal maternal behavior. Maternal responsiveness led to increased situational compliance for these children.

In the forbidden toy context, the path from avoidance to affect was significant and negative for both temperamentally reactive groups. For temperamentally negative children, increased avoidant behavior was associated with decreased gentle discipline, while approach behaviors were associated with increased gentle discipline. Additionally, any type of discipline, gentle or punitive, was significantly, negatively predictive of committed compliance.

For temperamentally positive children, displays of avoidance decreased displays of mutually positive affect. Also, use of gentle discipline was significantly, inversely related to child displays of committed compliance, as well as significantly, positively related to their displays of situational compliance. Discipline also mediated the relation between affect and compliance, as well as responsiveness and compliance, for the temperamentally positive group.