Parent–child neural synchrony: a novel approach to elucidating dyadic correlates of preschool irritability

Laura E. Quiñones-Camacho*, Frank A. Fishburn, M. Catalina Camacho, Christina O. Hlutkowsky, Theodore J. Huppert, Lauren S. Wakschlag, Susan B. Perlman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Background: Research to date has largely conceptualized irritability in terms of intraindividual differences. However, the role of interpersonal dyadic processes has received little consideration. Nevertheless, difficulties in how parent–child dyads synchronize during interactions may be an important correlate of irritably in early childhood. Innovations in developmentally sensitive neuroimaging methods now enable the use of measures of neural synchrony to quantify synchronous responses in parent–child dyads and can help clarify the neural underpinnings of these difficulties. We introduce the Disruptive Behavior Diagnostic Observation Schedule: Biological Synchrony (DB-DOS:BioSync) as a paradigm for exploring parent–child neural synchrony as a potential biological mechanism for interpersonal difficulties in preschool psychopathology. Methods: Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) 4- to 5-year-olds (N = 116) and their mothers completed the DB-DOS:BioSync while assessing neural synchrony during mild frustration and recovery. Child irritability was measured using a latent irritability factor that was calculated from four developmentally sensitive indicators. Results: Both the mild frustration and the recovery contexts resulted in neural synchrony. However, less neural synchrony during the recovery context only was associated with more child irritability. Conclusions: Our results suggest that recovering after a frustrating period might be particularly challenging for children high in irritability and offer support for the use of the DB-DOS:BioSync task to elucidate interpersonal neural mechanisms of developmental psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1213-1223
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Neural synchrony
  • irritability
  • parent–child synchrony
  • prefrontal cortex
  • recovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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