Digital disruption? Maternal mobile device use is related to infant social-emotional functioning

Sarah Myruski, Olga Gulyayeva, Samantha Birk, Koraly Pérez-Edgar, Kristin A. Buss, Tracy A. Dennis-Tiwary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Mobile device use has become increasingly prevalent, yet its impact on infant development remains largely unknown. When parents use mobile devices in front of infants, the parent is physically present but most likely distracted and unresponsive. Research using the classic Still Face Paradigm (SFP) suggests that parental withdrawal and unresponsiveness may have negative consequences for children's social-emotional development. In the present study, 50 infants aged 7.20 to 23.60 months (M = 15.40, SD = 4.74) and their mothers completed a modified SFP. The SFP consisted of three phases: free play (FP; parent and infant play and interact), still face (SF; parent withdraws attention and becomes unresponsive), and reunion (RU; parent resumes normal interaction). The modified SFP incorporated mobile device use in the SF phase. Parents reported on their typical mobile device use and infant temperament. Consistent with the standard SFP, infants showed more negative affect and less positive affect during SF versus FP. Infants also showed more toy engagement and more engagement with mother during FP versus SF and RU. Infants showed the most social bids during SF and more room exploration in SF than RU. More frequent reported mobile device use was associated with less room exploration and positive affect during SF, and less recovery (i.e., engagement with mother, room exploration positive affect) during RU, even when controlling for individual differences in temperament. Findings suggest that the SFP represents a promising theoretical framework for understanding the impact of parent's mobile device use on infant social-emotional functioning and parent–infant interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12610
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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