Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Hillary Fouts

Committee Members

Julia Jaekel, Terri Combs-Orme, Mary Jane Moran


Parents respond to their infants’ emotions in ways they believe are most appropriate. These reciprocal interactions make up the infants’ social-emotional environment and appear to guide future development and relationship formation; this trajectory is supported mostly from research in Western industrialized contexts. This dissertation consists of three studies and addresses the following over-arching research questions: How have parents’ perceptions of infant emotions been studied? How do Gamo mothers in rural Southern Ethiopia perceive their infants’ emotions and what do they believe are appropriate responses to emotions? Do Gamo mothers vary in their feelings about their infants’ negative emotions and is this linked to differences in mother-infant interactions? Parents’ perceptions of infants’ emotions were investigated through a systematic literature review and qualitative study that included interviews with 29 Gamo mothers about perceptions of their infants’ emotions and what they believed were the best responses. The last study examined the link between 23 Gamo mothers’ feelings about their infants’ negative emotions and mother-infant interactions measured through focal-infant observations. In the systematic literature review, 28 articles were identified and demonstrated that parents’ perceptions of their infants’ emotions have been studied in the biological and social sciences and mostly among European American mothers. In interviews with Gamo mothers, perceptions of infant emotions were associated with beliefs about basic needs for infants and some mothers expressed stress when their infants fussed or cried. Mothers who reported stress showed fewer mother-infant interactions. However, mothers who did not express stress had infants that fussed and cried more than infants of mothers who reported stress. The results from the systematic literature review suggest that a trans-disciplinary approach is needed in the study of parents’ perceptions of infant emotions in order to understand how parents perceive their infants’ emotions. The link between Gamo mothers’ perceptions of their infants’ emotions and basic needs suggests that mothers were mainly focused on keeping infants healthy and alive in a relatively harsh environment. Lastly, infants with nonstressed mothers may cry and fuss more because they are involved in more interactions with their mothers overall and perhaps use fussing and crying to maintain interactions.

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