Maternal Behaviour Q-sort Manual Version 3.1
David R. Pederson, Greg Moran, & Sandi Bento
Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario N6A 5C2, CANADA
October, 1994 (revised May, 1999)
Our major intent
in this revision was to develop more items that might distinguish mothers
in avoidant relationships from those in ambivalent relationships. We also
removed items that do not directly describe the infant's experience. For
example, in version 2.1 there is an item about mother being a good informant.
This is a good item in that it is usually easy to get relevant information
during the home visit, observers generally agree, and it distinguishes
mothers in secure relationships from those in non-secure relationships.
The difficulty is that the item refers to the observer's rather than the
infant's direct experience with the mother. Because our goal in writing
q-set items is to describe mother-infant interactions rather than identifying
sensitive mothers, items that did not directly describe the infant's experiences
were omitted in version 3.0. If your purpose is to distinguish sensitive
from insensitive mothers, either version will work well. We have a few
cases where the observer completed both versions. The summary sensitivity
scores were very similar.
The sorting procedures take place in three phases. (Be sure the cards are shuffled before you start your sort.)
First, sort the cards into three piles - with cards descriptive of the mother on the right hand pile, cards referring to behaviours not observed, only moderately descriptive of the mother, or sometimes true and sometimes not true in the middle, and cards that are not characteristic of mother on the left. Mechanically it works out better if the piles are roughly equal but with slightly fewer cards in the middle pile. Remember that you want to describe the salient characteristics of the interactions you observed. Then sort the cards in the "like the mother pile" into three approximately equal piles that vary in how similar the behaviours are to the mother's observed behaviour.
Then sort the "unlike the mother pile" into three piles that differ in how uncharacteristic they are and, finally sort the middle pile into three piles. This second sort will also allow you to correct misplacements from the original sort. You should now have nine piles with roughly the same number of cards in each pile.
Now starting with the far right pile, place the cards so you can read each card. If you have fewer than 12 cards in that pile, look at the next pile and move enough cards over so you have at least 12 cards.
Now select the 10 cards are the most characteristic of the mother's observed behaviour. These 10 cards go into pile 9. Move the remaining cards to the next pile (pile 8) and do the same thing - pick out the 10 cards from that pile that are most descriptive of the mother. Again make sure that you have at least 12 cards to examine.
Continue this process until you have finished piles 9, 8, 7 and 6. Then go to the unlike end and do the same process of picking the 10 cards least like the mother you observed. These cards go into pile 1. You should end up with 9 piles of 10 cards each (the order within each pile is not relevant).
Now record the item numbers on a data sheet. We find it simplest to have a sheet with 9 rows numbered 1 through 9, each with 10 columns. Essentially what you have produced are ratings of the mother's behaviour on a nine-point scale with the restriction that each scale point is used exactly 10 times. The data sheet lists the items with each rating.
then use the "sort" function to sort those two columns by the
item numbers so that you have a column of item numbers from 1 to 90 and
a column of the pile number (or rating) for each item. Since most statistical
programs assume that subjects will be in rows, we transpose the data column
into a row and copy this row into a second folder, labelled 'data'. Of
course you will want provide participant and observer identification for
each row and we find it helpful to have the item numbers listed in a row
at the top data matrix. We have the sensitivity criterion sort as the
second row in this data matrix. The mother's sensitivity score can be
calculated by the spread sheet program's correlation command.
Explanation: M may initiate play or interactions, however,
she does not follow B's lead, as a result there is little or no turn taking.
M is directive without regard to B's intentions. If little or no interaction
place in the middle piles. 2
Explanation: Regardless of competing tasks, M keeps
close tabs on B. Should B enter another room M is aware of B's activities,
her behaviour suggests she knows what B is doing at all times. 8
Low: Responds consistently in same manner.
Explanation: The predictability of M's responding is evaluated. From
the B's experience, it is difficult to know how M will respond to positive
or negative signals. Consider any response and lack of responses to B's
signals. If M consistently ignores B's signals or is consistently responsive,
place in the unlike piles. 2
Explanation: M is preoccupied with visitors and does not monitor B,
unaware of B's actions. M fails to notice or comment on B's activities.
Explanation: During times of physical contact with B, appears mechanical,
inanimate or perfunctory. For example - M not comfortable holding and
cuddling B. When B approaches for contact, may turn B away from her. If
no contact is observed place in the middle piles. 1
Examples: Introduces B to visitor. M positions herself where she can
facilitate B's interactions with visitor. Suggests what B is comfortable
with in interactions with strangers. 6
Explanation: Physical movements of B are awkward, perhaps without gentleness.
Examples - treats B like a puppet, swoops in on B, roughly adjusts B's
Explanation: Consider context of B's activity to judge the appropriateness
of M's signal. If not interacting with B and B is focussed on an activity,
may not require a signal. If interacting with B and needs to leave the
room, gives an explanation or signal when she leaves the room. If M does
not leave the room, place in the middle piles .7
Explanation: B's positive affect, or B's attempts to engage M are ignored.
These are B's signals directed to M. If B does not signal M, place in
the middle piles. 2
Examples: B is attending when M directs comments to B. Elicits B's attention
before communicating. 6
Elaboration: M expands B's vocalizations or activities in a teaching
Explanation: M schedules appointment to fit her schedule rather than
during a time when B usually at his/her best. During visit should B become
tired M does not acknowledge, or respond. 4
Explanation: M makes herself unavailable by putting B away in front
of the television or by having sibling take over interaction with B. If
M remains available to monitor and attend to B even if TV is on, place
in the unlike piles. 5
Explanation: Terminates or interrupts interaction while actively engaged
with B without notice or preparation. Example - M sets B down when telephone
rings or to talk to visitor while B is interacting with her. 3
Explanation: Unaware or insensitive to B's current ability Example -
engages B in activity when B appears frustrated, or unable to complete.
This is in contrast with scaffolding, i.e., when M clearly assists B in
attaining new goals. 4
Explanation: M does not alter interaction in response to B's cues of
disinterest or dislike. Example - may continue to offer B a toy in spite
of B's turning away or refusals, or may request B "perform"
when B is not interested. 2
Explanation: M follows own agenda during interaction. Ignores B's initiatives
or signals to change pace or content of the interactions. Imposes her
Explanation: B's belongings not immediately obvious, indicating a lack of support of the B's exploratory behaviour. Surroundings are not "baby proofed" so that M has to restrict B's exploration.
If toys and B's belongings are accessible or M creates an interesting
and safe environment for the B to explore, place in the unlike piles.
Explanation: Puts B away from M during displays of negative affect.
Exammle - removes B to bedroom or playpen. If no negative affect, place
in the middle piles. 4
Explanation: Accuracy is defined by B's response. B's distress is lessened
or terminated after M's intervention. If no intervention from M, place
in the unlike piles. If no distress place in the middle piles. 9
Explanation: M is struggling to provide basic care. Example - M may
be passive, withdrawn, or frustrated during caregiving tasks such as changing,
Explanation: Psychologically inaccessible to B, unaware of B's signals.
Explanation: M positions herself so that B able to establish proximity
on his/her own. If B mobile, able to get to M without any obstacles. If
B not mobile M positions herself near B. 8
Examples - sits facing B, if B moves M re-positions herself to enable
her to hear or see B. 7
Explanation: What is being assessed is M's skill at attending to simultaneous
demands. When involved with other tasks has lapses in awareness of B.
Explanation: The timing of M's response is what is evaluated. Consider
all forms of negative affect, including cries, displays of frustration,
and fusses. If no negative affect, place in the middle piles. 8
Explanation: M not only attends but also responds to B's cues while
engaged in other tasks. 9
Explanation: Provides a more appropriate activity that engages the B.
Explanation: M does not appear to be guessing at what B needs, seems to know B well as evidenced by B's responses to her interventions. 9
30. Interactions with B characterized by active physical manipulations.
Explanation: Interactions are physical rather than verbal. M physically controls B's movements, position, and actions.
Examples - may move B's hand to object; vigorously moves B, hand over
hand pat-a-cake. 5
Explanations: Consider the abruptness of how M redirects B's bids for proximity or contact.
Examples - does not acknowledge B's desires for contact; diverts B's
attention without regard for B's need for contact met. If M acknowledges
B's bid and offers an alternative that is acceptable to B, place in the
unlike piles. 3
Examples - may interfere with activity B is enjoying; may not acknowledge
B's communications to her; initiates interactions when B is attending
to other activities; is active when B is quiet; quiet when B is active.
Explanation: No apparent strategy in meeting B's needs, interventions
seem without obvious rationale. No intuitive sense of B's needs. 3
Explanation: Indicates awareness of B's current state by following B's lead.
Examples - when B is tired does not push B to complete a task, changes
the interaction according to B's interest or level of frustration. 9
Explanation: Comfort-seeking as well as pleasurable activities are considered. M seems to know the moment B has had enough.
Example - if B is in contact with M, does not terminate, interrupt, or
redirect until B is ready to be put down; if B is engaged with play with
M, continues activity until B moves on or otherwise signals the game is
Explanation: If the context requires, M makes a quick response that
clearly protects B, but may not allow B an alternative. M's clear priority
is to protect the B. 7
Explanation: M may seems more concerned with B getting messy rather than B's need to explore or B's budding independence.
Example - M frequently wipes B's face and fingers while B is eating or
drinking; interferes during mealtime where eating soft foods with fingers
may be appropriate. If messy play not observed place in the middle piles.
Explanation: This is a "filler" card; there is not a direct implication about M's sensitivity. However, it is important to sort filler card this accurately because the placement of each card influences the placement of all other cards. If providing nutritional snacks is one of the most salient characteristics of the M, this card will replace other cards in the most like piles.
Example - gives infant and toddler nutritionally appropriate foods. 5
Examples - Seizes interactions as instructional opportunities to teach
B; labels B's activities; asks "what is...?"; uses directives
during interactions. 5
Explanation: considers what is age appropriate and what facilitates B's initiatives.
Examples - provides B an opportunity to feed him/herself by providing
finger foods; allows B to use spoon. 5
Explanation: M uses toys or food to mediate interactions. Notice especially
what M does in response to fusses and proximity bids. 4
Explanation: expressions of affection are abrupt or obligatory, lacking in an intimate, engaging quality.
Example - swoops down and pecks B on head. If no expressions of affection
place in the middle piles. If affectionate exchanges are warm, with spontaneous
touches, caresses, kisses or in response to B's gestures of affection
place in the unlike piles. 2
Explanation: uses varied expressions of affect, enthusiastic with B.
If M apathetic or indifferent in interaction with B place in the unlike
Explanation: intervenes when B has reached the limit in the ability to self soothe or otherwise regulate emotions. Determine M's expectations by noting the timing of M's intervention as well as the content.
Examples - limits B's frustration with task by offering assistance; monitors
B when falls to see if B needs comfort in managing hurt; gently suggests
alternative activity to contain B's over excitement 8
Examples -shows B approval by acknowledging and celebrating B's accomplishments
and activities with B. 7
Middle: If B not held by M
Explanation: M's body is relaxed, rounded, and oriented to accept close
contact of B, cuddles B to her. If M pulls away, sits back , or places
arms between herself and B while holding place in the unlike piles. 7
Middle: No expressions of affection
Low: affection expressed in non-physical ways
Examples - takes the opportunity when B is near to spontaneously touch
or caress tenderly as expressions of positive feelings toward B. If M's
expressions of affection are primarily verbal place in the unlike piles
Explanation: aware of B's environment such that she points to and labels
things that may be of interest to B. Also consider how M structures the
environment for B by offering verbal prompts to transitions in activities,
introduces visitors, labels toys and activities during play. 6
Explanation: initiates interactions with B. The content, quality and timing of the interactions are not assessed here.
Examples - introduces toys, talks to B, invites B to approach. 6
Explanation: has apparently thought about B's needs, interests and developmental
level by providing toys and objects that are accessible and appropriate
to support B's exploration and learning. Also consider the provision of
a place for B to play with these objects. 6
Explanation: is mindful of B's developmental abilities by giving B toys
that are developmentally suitable. 5
Explanation: inhibits, or controls B's actions verbally. 5
Explanation: ensures the B has an opportunity to respond by adapting the pace of the interactions.
Examples - gives B opportunity to explore when introducing a new activity;
in puzzle play is more focused on supporting play than completing puzzle.
Explanation: taunts B as a way of expressing negative feeling. As in Ainsworth's rejection scale, even when B responds positively to teasing, there seems to be some negative aggressive component in the teaser's behaviour - and in extremes teasing is sadistic and hostile.
Examples - offers toy then puts it out of B's reach when B shows interest;
repeatedly pushes toy in B's face; trying to distract B by poking at B
when distressed. If not observed and would not be expected from this M,
place in the unlike piles. 1
Explanation: accepts B's desire to express autonomy, explore, and or
experience his/her environment without restrictions even when these experiences
may be contrary to M's expectations. This does not include experiences
which may be dangerous or which the B may need M's interventions (e.g.,
Explanation: has pre-conceived, inflexible ideas about child rearing without regard or accommodation to B's actual needs or desires.
Examples - keeps B on schedule rather than meeting the immediate needs
of B; insists on early toilet training or weaning. 5
Explanation: enjoyment and adoration of B is evident in interaction.
Interactions are characterized by spontaneous positive gestures, vocalizations,
smiles to B. .9
Explanation: consider both psychological and physical needs of B.
Examples - arranges her schedule to reflect needs of B; provides quiet
time when B is stressed or tired; structures the physical environment
to allow for uninhibited exploration and movement; dangerous and adult
objects are out of B's reach; B's toys are within reach. 6
Explanation: as in Ainsworth's cooperation scale, M's interventions and initiations of interaction do not break into or interrupt the B's ongoing activity. Interactions are geared in both timing and quality to B's state, mood, and current interest.
Example - if B is engaged in appropriate activity, waits until B is
finished before introducing a new task. 7
Explanation: interactions characterized by reprimands, scorn or hostile
criticism. There is a punitive tone to the interactions. 2
Explanation: Irritation may be expressed covertly by purposely ignoring
bids for contact with signs of irritation (e.g., sighs, hostile glances).
Irritation may also be expressed overtly by criticizing B's bids for proximity
(e.g., 'oh, you suck' said in a derogatory tone) or by abruptly physically
redirecting the B's bids for contact. 3
Explanation: predicts B's needs accurately as shown by B's satisfaction with her response.
Example - B fussing, M intervenes and B settles and appears content 9
Explanation: Not ignoring B's distress, she is aware but does not respond.
Example - may look or comment to B but does not give B what B seems
to want or need. 2
Explanation: Demonstrates an awareness of B's attentional state.
Example - when she comes back after a brief separation, will acknowledge
B, except when such a greeting might be intrusive or disruptive of B's
ongoing activity. If not observed, place in middle piles. 6
Explanation: not only is M aware of B's signals to her, she also responds
to these signals. Responses may or may not be appropriate. If B does not
signal, place in middle piles 8
Explanation: does not respond to negative or positive signals, consider the consistency of her unresponsiveness in the pile placement.
Example - M responds to negative signals and ignores positive signals
place in middle piles. 1
Explanation: intervenes and/or comforts B only when signals of distress are frequent, or prolonged or intense, otherwise seems oblivious to B's distress. M does not respond to B's less intense signals of distress such as fusses and whimpers. 1
Explanation: interactions with B are well-timed and matched to B's level
of activity or enthusiasm. 8
Explanation: shows that she is aware of B's distress. Gives an observable
sign to B that she is attending. She may look or comment to B. M may or
may not intervene. 7
Explanation: because of her timing, responses are not contingent on or obviously related to B's signals or behaviour.
Example: B's signals for juice, M gets juice several minutes later; B's
signals to be picked up, M ignores until she finishes her activity in
progress and then responds. 1
Explanation: aware of B's interest and attention and uses this information as a guide for her interactions.
Example - in play, attends to what the B is interested in, rather than
introducing a new activity. 9
Explanation: gives an observable sign that she is aware of B's positive signals.
Example - looks when B smiles, but may or may not respond by smiling,
Middle: Condition not observed or irritation not directed to B.
Low: Irritation with B expressed through increased emotionally engaged interaction.
Explanation: if irritated, withdraws from B either by physically or psychologically distancing herself.
Examples - when she is annoyed with B, refuses to engage in joint activity or may respond with flat affect or indifference.
Place in low piles if irritation or annoyance expressed by emotionally
charged interactions with B. Example - B does something M does not like,
she may retaliate by scolding, teasing, or screaming at B. 5
Explanation: Overzealous monitoring of B's independent exploration. Seems overly concerned or hyper vigilant about B's developmentally appropriate exploration.
Example - may physically restrict B's movements, stands over B when B
is obviously good at walking. 4
Explanation: acknowledges B's exploratory interests by providing B with opportunities to explore independently.
Example - introduces a potentially interesting activity or toy, then allows B to investigate
Place in middle piles if M ignores B's exploration
Place in unlike piles if M discourages independent exploration by controlling
or interfering with B's exploration. 7
Explanation: when B is upset, M comforts B physically by cuddling, molding herself to B.
Example - when B distressed M picks up and hugs.
Place in middle piles if no distress 8
Explanation: uses verbal contact to signal her accessiblity. This item assesses the quantity of vocializations, they may or may not be appropriate in timing or content.
Example - there is a sense that M is aware and connected to B. Place
in low piles if M never talks to B 6
Explanation: engages B with interactive games.
Examples - peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, round and round the garden, and other
age appropriate, animated play 6
Explanation: has a low tolerance for more insistent signals; has difficulty accepting responsibility for B's care.
Examples - when B needs care or comfort, M is annoyed, irritable, exasperated
or resentful. 4
Explanation: does not accept or respect B when B does not comply with M's initiatives or requests.
Examples - when B does not comply, M may escalate the emotional tone
by joining battle with B; putting B away, ignoring B, or refusing to give
into B's demands. 4
Explanation: love and acceptance is expressed outwardly to B; M not only loves B, but these feelings are made obvious to B.
Examples - shows her feelings of pleasure to B by saying endearing things
to B, when B does something cute, smiles and comments to B. 9
Explanation: physically restrains B. Impersonal restraints such as playpens and highchairs may be considered if B is placed in these as a way of restricting the B's active exploration.
Example - encloses the B with her legs while in play so B cannot move
Explanation: interactions are impersonal, detached, and remote from B's activity in progress.
Example - interactions seem more obligatory than pleasureable 3
Explanation: affect is not congruent with B's emotional state, may indicate that M mislables B's affect.
Example - B frightened, M laughs and says B is shy. 3
Explanation: interactions are fragmented or arbitrarily terminated before reaching a natural end. Does not give B opportunity to fully explore current activity.
Example -introduces different activity when B is enjoying playing with
a toy. 3
Explanation: when is in contact, breaks off contact before B is soothed
completely or ready to move on to other activities. 2
Explanation: does not acknowledge B's autonomy, does not accept that
B has a will, actively interferes or redirects B from activity in progress.
Does not considers B's mood and activity in progress. 2
Explanation: M and B seem to have different agendas, lack of mutual
enjoyment, undercurrent of hostility to each other. 1
Explanation: interventions are effective as evidenced by B being settled
or content. 9
Explanation: underling hostility and rejection of B.
Examples - scolds, criticizes, ignores, aggressive, abrupt jerking about, or slaps B. 1