Several studies have reported that interactions of mothers with preterm infants show differential characteristics compared to that of mothers with full-term infants. Interaction of preterm dyads is often reported as less harmonious. However, observations and explanations concerning the underlying mechanisms are inconsistent. In this work 30 preterm and 42 full-term mother-infant dyads were observed at one year of age. Free play interactions were videotaped and coded using a micro-analytic coding system. The video records were coded at one second resolution and studied by a novel approach using network analysis tools. The advantage of our approach is that it reveals the patterns of behavioral transitions in the interactions. We found that the most frequent behavioral transitions are the same in the two groups. However, we have identified several high and lower frequency transitions which occur significantly more often in the preterm or full-term group. Our analysis also suggests that the variability of behavioral transitions is significantly higher in the preterm group. This higher variability is mostly resulted from the diversity of transitions involving non-harmonious behaviors. We have identified a maladaptive pattern in the maternal behavior in the preterm group, involving intrusiveness and disengagement. Application of the approach reported in this paper to longitudinal data could elucidate whether these maladaptive maternal behavioral changes place the infant at risk for later emotional, cognitive and behavioral disturbance.
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