Association between parent-infant interactions in infancy and disruptive behaviour disorders at age seven: a nested case-control ALSPAC study

Christine Puckering, Clare S Allely, Orla Doolin, David Purves, Alex McConnachie, Paul CD Johnson, Helen Marwick, Jon Heron, Jean Golding, Chris Gillberg, Philip Wilson

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Effective early intervention to prevent oppositional/conduct disorders requires early identification of children at risk. Patterns of parent-child interaction may predict oppositional/conduct disorders but large community-based prospective studies are needed to evaluate this possibility.
We sought to examine whether the Mellow Parenting Observational System (MPOS) used to assess parent-infant interactions at one year was associated with psychopathology at age 7. The MPOS assesses positive and negative interactions between parent and child. It examines six dimensions: anticipation of child’s needs, responsiveness, autonomy, cooperation, containment of child distress, and control/conflict; these are summed to produce measures of total positive and negative interactions. We examined videos from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) sub-cohort who attended the ‘Children in Focus’ clinic at one year of age. Our sample comprised 180 videos of parent-infant interaction: 60 from infants who received a psychiatric diagnostic categorisation at seven years and 120 randomly selected controls who were group-matched on sex.
A negative association between positive interactions and oppositional/conduct disorders was found. With the exception of pervasive developmental disorders (autism), an increase of one positive interaction per minute predicted a 15% (95% CI: 4% to 26%) reduction in the odds of the infant being case diagnosed. There was no statistically significant relationship between negative parenting interactions and oppositional/conduct disorders, although negative interactions were rarely observed in this setting.
The Mellow Parenting Observation System, specifically low scores for positive parenting interactions (such as Responsiveness which encompasses parental warmth towards the infant), predicted later psychiatric diagnostic categorisation of oppositional/conduct disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number233
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Pediatrics
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2014


  • parent-infant interactions
  • mellow parenting observation system
  • disruptive behaviour disorders
  • pediatrics


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