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BACKGROUND: There has been increasing interest in the relative effects of mothers' and fathers' interactions with their infants on later development. However to date there has been little work on children's cognitive outcomes. METHODS: We examined the relative influence of fathers' and mothers' sensitivity during interactions with their children at the end of the child's first year (10-12 months, n = 97), on child general cognitive development at 18 months and language at 36 months. RESULTS: Both parents' sensitivity was associated with cognitive and language outcomes in univariate analyses. Mothers' sensitivity, however, appeared to be associated with family socio-demographic factors to a greater extent that fathers' sensitivity. Using path modelling the effect of paternal sensitivity on general cognitive development at 18 months and language at 36 months was significantly greater than the effect of maternal sensitivity, when controlling for socio-demographic background. In relation to language at 36 months, there was some evidence that sensitivity of one parent buffered the effect of lower sensitivity of the other parent. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that parental sensitivity can play an important role in children's cognitive and language development, and that higher sensitivity of one parent can compensate for the lower sensitivity of the other parent. Replication of these findings, however, is required in larger samples.

Original publication




Journal article


Child Care Health Dev

Publication Date





1 - 7


cognitive development, fathers, parent-infant interaction, sensitivity, Adult, Child Development, Child, Preschool, Cognition, Educational Status, Father-Child Relations, Fathers, Female, Health Promotion, Humans, Infant, Male, Mother-Child Relations, Mothers, Parenting, Play and Playthings, Social Class, United Kingdom, Videotape Recording