top of page

Researcher Reflections: Mahesh Srinivasan

Interview by: Kat Peterson

This week, we're sharing an interview with Professor Mahesh Srinivasan, the senior researcher of the study. Read on to learn more about Mahesh and his reflections on the study!

Image of Mahesh Srinivasan, in a purple button up and smiling

Tell me a little bit about yourself.


I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley, where I study language and cognitive development in children. I’m also a parent who has had some delightful (and sometimes challenging) times bathing my 2-year-old.


What was your favorite thing about this study?


We set out to study the factors that predict variability in how individual caregivers speak to their children, but our choice of bath time as the context from which to sample parent-child conversations was not foreseen (it just happened to be the context that most regularly occurred for families of different socioeconomic backgrounds).  But the result was a rich and entertaining dataset full of laughs, cries, splashes and songs.


What were some of the most challenging things about running this study?


Initially, the main challenges were in setting up systems to recruit and retain a diverse sample of families, as well as to provide regular reminders for parents to record their bath times and upload their survey responses. Now, the primary challenge is in transcribing the audio recordings (i.e., to allow for analyses of what predicted patterns in parents’ and children’s speech), given that we have thousands hours of recordings that parents submitted.


What were the most surprising things that came out of this study?


We are still in that data transcription and analysis stage, but one key finding to emerge from our preliminary analyses is that the factors that predict whether one parent speaks more vs. less to their child often do not generalize other parents. For example, while some parents appear to speak less to their children after a longer work day, other parents speak more, perhaps reflecting differences in how parents think about time with their children relative to their work (e.g., as another chore vs. a release from the banality of work). This is interesting and potentially significant for interventions seeking to boost parents’ speech to kids, as it speaks to the potential efficacy of one-size-fits-all vs. individualized interventions.


Another preliminary finding to emerge is that most parents appear to speak less to their children at the end of the month compared to earlier in the month. We have found this in our prior research, and we believe that this reflects the impact of the added financial scarcity that people tend to experience toward the end of the month, when bills are due and families are further away from receiving their paychecks. This finding is significant as it points to the importance of external, structural influences on how parents engage with their children.


What’s unique about this study?


Many studies have explore the predictors of variability in parents’ speech to their children. Our study is unique in its ability to explore the impact of these predictors not solely at the group level (e.g., by exploring whether parents who experience a more positive mood also tend to talk more to their children) but also at the individual level (e.g., whether the same parent speaks more to their child when they are in a better mood than in a worse mood). These rich, individual-level data move the field toward a more mechanistic understanding of these phenomena. Our study is also unique in focusing on structural influences on parenting (e.g., financial constraints, parental health and employment), during a period in which many families experienced unprecedented adversity.


If you could do this study again, what would you change?


We would love to get an even more diverse sample (economically, racially/ethnically, geographically, linguistically) so as to better understand which factors (i.e., predictors of parent-child engagement) generalize across all parents, and which factors do not generalize or only generalize among sub-groups.


If you had unlimited time and resources, what would you like to add to this study?


Our study primarily focused on predictors of parent-child conversations derived from the parents (i.e., we were limited to surveys that parents filled out because the research was conducted remotely). In the future it would be interesting to be able to collect more data from children as well. Additionally, it would be interesting to capture contexts beyond bath time.


Where do you see this study going in the future?


Data collection from this study is complete, but we envision many projects that analyze subsets of the data. For example, in addition to explore the predictors of parents’ speech to children, we are interested in understanding predictors of parents’ moods. We are also interested in conducting more qualitative coding of parent-child conversations, to move beyond solely focusing on the quantities of words that parents and children used from day-to-day.


What is your main takeaway from this study?


I think we are still very much at the early stages. But one key takeaway thus far is that there are many different factors that shape how parents engage with their children, and that different factors are influential for different families.  



bottom of page