Affective Language Spreads Between Anxious Children and Their Mothers During a Challenging Puzzle Task

Erik C. Nook, Cristina Nardini, Sadie J. Zacharek, Grace Hommel, Hannah Spencer, Alyssa Martino, Allison Morra, Silvia Flores, Tess Anderson, Carla E. Marin, Wendy K. Silverman, Eli R. Lebowitz, Dylan G. Gee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Humans influence each other’s emotions. The spread of emotion is well documented across behavioral, psychophysiological, and neuroscientific levels of analysis, but might this influence also be evident in language (e.g., are people more likely to use emotion words after hearing someone else use them)? The current study tests whether mothers and children influence each other’s use of affective language. From 2018 to 2020, children aged 6–12 who met diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders and their mothers (N =93 dyads) completed a challenging puzzle task while being video recorded. Analyses of transcriptions revealed that mothers and children indeed influenced each other’s language. Bidirectional influence was observed for use of negative affect words: Mothers were more likely to use negative affect words if their child had just used negative affect words (over and above mothers’ own language on their previous turn), and children were similarly influenced by mother affect word use.A similar bidirectional relation emerged for linguistic distance, a measure related to effective emotion regulation and mental health. However, the significance of the child-tomother direction of influence for these two variables varied depending on correction threshold and should thus be verified in future research. Nonetheless, these findings extend understanding of emotional influence by showing turn-by-turn relations between the use of affective language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1513-1521
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 2 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • anxiety
  • emotion
  • emotional influence
  • language
  • parent–child interactions


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