Has maternal sensitivity been comprehensively investigated in Sub-Saharan Africa? A narrative scoping review

Anita Prag, K. A. Donald, E. Weldon, S. L. Halligan, D. J. Stein, S. Malcolm-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


Child development is strongly influenced by maternal characteristics. Maternal sensitivity, as well as risks to and outcomes of sensitive maternal style, are well studied in industrialised western contexts, but it is unclear if this is the case for other contexts. Sub-Saharan Africa has been subjected to and continues to negotiate socio-economic and psychological sequelae of colonial and race-based politics: exploring the nature and outcomes of early caregiver input in such challenging conditions is imperative. This scoping review thus aims to 1) evaluate the nature and extent of quantified observational assessments of dyadic interactions, with a focus on maternal sensitivity, in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 2) ascertain which risk and outcome factors have been examined in relation to maternal sensitivity. Study quality and cross-cultural appropriateness will also be considered. The search using expanded search terms yielded 20 papers -four characterizing maternal sensitivity or style, 8 examining maternal sensitivity in relation to risks and outcomes, and 8 intervention studies examining efforts to improve maternal sensitivity. Most research was conducted in South Africa - only 7 studies were conducted in 4 other countries. Researchers used a wide array of coding schemes, most developed in the west. Ten studies made some adaptations to measures. Language issues and cultural considerations were often not explicitly addressed. Taken together, very limited research on this important topic exists. For the work that does exist, questions around westernized assumptions, language, and appropriateness of measures remain. Substantially more research, informed by both culturally flexible conceptualizations and methodological rigor is required.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalActa Neuropsychiatrica
Early online date24 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Mar 2023


  • cross cultural measure
  • maternal sensitivity
  • observational study
  • outcomes
  • risks
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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