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Caregiver Infant Interactions

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Caregiver Infant Interactions

In psychology, caregiver-infant interactions are interactions between babies or infants and their parents or guardians (the caregivers). Caregiver-infant interactions are a way of establishing and showing attachment between the infant and the caregiver.

Attachment is an emotional bond with another person that provides feelings of safety and closeness. Attachment is a reciprocal emotional bond in the relationship between caregiver and infant. Reciprocal interactions strengthen the bond.

Caregiver infant interactions examples

In psychology, examples of caregiver-infant interactions would be reciprocity and interactional synchrony.

When the caregiver or infant initiates an interaction, responses follow the interaction. We refer to this as reciprocity. When the infant and caregiver elicit responses from each other, it is a sign of reciprocity. Reciprocity of interactions usually evokes important feelings from the caregiver or infant, such as comfort, safety, or closeness.

These interactions usually take the form of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication includes eye contact, smiling, facial expressions, sounds (e.g., gurgling) and physical touch.

Interactional synchrony occurs when one person mirrors the interactions of another, such as facial expressions and body language. Caregiver-infant interaction is a reciprocal behaviour – a 'conversation' through behaviours and emotions. When the caregiver tickles the infant, the infant smiles, and the caregiver laughs. The infant, in turn, makes happy gurgling sounds in response to the caregiver's laughter.

Caregiver infant interactions Physical touch is a non-verbal example of communication in caregiver infant interactions that can show attachment StudySmarterPhysical touch is a non-verbal caregiver infant interaction example that can show attachment. Pixabay

Condon and Sander (1974) found that babies as young as one day synchronise their movements and responses with the phonetic structure (rhythm) of adult speech. The researchers reported a 'turn-by-turn' interaction in which an adult spoke, and the baby responded.

The finding suggests babies can pay attention to sounds at an early age and converse with physical movements and gestures that may seem random at first glance. The study showed how babies use reciprocity and interactional synchrony to interact with their caregivers.

Meltzoff and Moore (1977) observed interactional synchrony when adults showed infants with pacifiers in their mouths facial expressions or hand gestures to prevent immediate responses. As soon as they removed the pacifiers, the infants' facial expressions changed depending on which facial expression or hand gesture the adult showed.

We will look at various research and studies on caregiver-infant interactions. Below is an overview of the subtopics.

Attachment figures and the role of the father in caregiver infant interactions

Traditionally, researchers have focused on the relationships between mother and child. In studies of attachment figures and the role of the father, researchers have examined how attachments and interactions between caregivers and infants in a father-infant relationship differ from those in a mother-infant relationship. They also examined the father's role in the infant's social and emotional development.

Fathers as primary caregivers

Field (1978) compared the behaviour of mothers who are primary caregivers to that of fathers who are primary caregivers and fathers who are secondary caregivers. Field found that fathers who were primary caregivers showed interactions with the infant such as smiling, touching, and making sounds, as did their female counterparts. Fathers who were secondary caregivers spent less time and were more engaged in play.

The study concluded that parental behaviour, not gender, is more important in building an attachment with the infant. Fathers can also behave in a caring and accommodating manner towards the infant, similar to the way mothers usually do.

The role of the father

Bowlby (1988) argued that fathers play a different role than mothers in most cultures and that it is unusual for fathers to be 'like' mothers and fill their roles. He suggested that fathers are more likely to interact with children through play. In his monotropic theory (1969), he held that children form an attachment to a 'primary' attachment figure, usually the mother.

Grossman (2002) conducted a longitudinal study to compare the contribution of fathers and mothers to their child's attachment at ages 6, 10, and 16. The researchers found that the quality of attachment in mother-infant relationships was important in examining the infant's long-term attachment into adolescence. This was not the case for father-child relationships, suggesting that the father's role is less important to an infant's development.

However, the researchers found that fathers' play sensitivity better predicted the infant's long-term attachment representation than father-child infant attachment during the early stages of the infant's life.

Play sensitivity was measured using the Sensitive and Challenging Interactive Play (SCIP) scale. Parents scored high if they cooperated with the child during play, took time to understand the child's point of view, explained information that the child could understand, motivated the child, and made suggestions that the child generally accepted.

Parents scored low if they did not cooperate, did not help the child, interfered with the child's actions, or pushed the child to achieve something.

Single-parent and same-sex families

MacCullum and Golombok (2004) found that children who grew up in single-parent or same-sex families showed no differences in development compared to children who grew up in a heterosexual family with two parents. This study suggests that the father's role in forming attachments may not be as pronounced or crucial as initially thought.

Stages of attachment in caregiver infant interactions: Schaffer and Emerson (1964)

In their longitudinal study, Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that the primary attachment of infants to their mothers occurs at about 6-7 months of age. At about ten months of age, infants develop secondary attachments to their father and other family members, which is also the beginning of multiple attachments.

By 18 months of age, 31% of infants had developed attachments to siblings, grandparents, neighbours, or other family members. Schaffer and Emerson suggest that infants go through the following stages of attachment:

  • Asocial – 0-6 weeks.
  • Indiscriminate attachment – 6 weeks - 7 months.
  • Specific attachment – 7-9 months.
  • Multiple attachments – 10 months+.

Schaffer and Emerson found that the mother was still the primary attachment figure at 18 months. Other attachments varied in a 'hierarchy' depending on how important the attachments were to the child.

The researchers concluded that infants are more likely to bond with those who respond accurately to the infant's signals than with those who spend more time with the infant; this is called sensitive responsiveness. Responding to the infant's signals includes communicating and playing with the infant and responding to the infant's demands, such as crying for attention or asking for something (e.g., a toy or a favourite TV programme).

Caregiver infant interactions Forming multiple attachments essential for child development StudySmarterForming multiple attachments is essential for a child's development, Unsplash

Caregiver infant interactions and difficulties in research

Research on caregiver-infant interactions in psychology encounters several difficulties, mainly because infants cannot communicate verbally. The following are common problems and possible solutions:

Reliability of testing infants

In research, the reliability of testing infants and children is questionable because infants' movements can be due to various reasons and not necessarily reciprocity or interaction with adults. It is not easy to determine which are intentional and which accidental behaviours.

A possible solution is to conduct experiments in a controlled environment to increase the reliability of the results.

Observer bias

Researchers may interpret infant behaviour to support their findings, known as observer bias. Since the infant's movements are subject to interpretation, this can affect the reliability of the results.

A possible solution is for more than one observer to be involved in observation and interpretation to increase inter-observer reliability.

Differences in attachment styles

Researchers may be overlooking individual factors, such as differences in attachment styles. Isabella et al. (1989) found that securely attached infants showed greater engagement in interactional synchrony. Outcomes are then likely to vary according to the infant's attachment style.

One possible solution is to examine caregiver-infant interactions across different attachment styles to determine if outcomes vary. For example, cross-cultural research could also consider differences in attachment styles and parenting practices.

Caregiver-infant interactions – Key takeaways

  • Caregiver-infant interactions are interactions between babies or infants and their parents or guardians (the caregivers). The baby leads the interactions, and the caregiver responds.
  • Reciprocity and interactional synchrony are found in interactions between caregivers and infants and strengthen attachment.
  • Condon and Sander have found that babies as young as one day old can show reciprocity and interactional synchrony in their movements and responses to adult speech.
  • Researchers have studied attachment and caregiver-infant interactions in a father-infant relationship. Some studies suggest fathers play a less important role in bonding, while others have found that fathers play a different role than mothers.
  • Schaffer and Emerson have found four stages of attachment in infants. Infants can form multiple attachments after the age of 10 months.
  • There are several difficulties in studying the interactions between caregivers and infants.

Frequently Asked Questions about Caregiver Infant Interactions

We can counter difficulties of investigating caregiver-infant interactions by adding another observer to increase inter-observer reliability, using controlled experimental environments, and studying interactions between different attachment styles.

Research into the interaction between caregivers and children is socially sensitive, as it may suggest that some child-rearing practices are detrimental to children and their development.

Two features of caregiver-infant interaction are reciprocity and interactional synchrony.

Reciprocity in infant-caregiver interaction means that either the caregiver or the infant initiates the interaction, followed by a response. Reciprocity means that the infant and caregiver can elicit responses from each other.

Caregiver-infant interaction is important because it creates a bond between the infant and the caregiver. In turn, it can promote the infant's social and emotional development.

Final Caregiver Infant Interactions Quiz

Question

What are caregiver-infant interactions?

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Answer

Caregiver-infant interactions are interactions between babies or infants and their parents or guardians (the caregivers). The baby leads the interactions, and the caregiver responds.

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Question

Give three examples of non-verbal communication within caregiver-infant interactions.


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Answer

Any three examples from the following list are acceptable: eye contact, smiling, facial expressions, sounds, and physical touch.

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What is attachment?


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Answer

Attachment is an emotional bond with another person that provides feelings of safety and closeness. Attachment is a reciprocal emotional bond in the relationship between caregiver and infant. Reciprocal interactions strengthen the bond.

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Question

What is reciprocity?


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Answer

When the caregiver or infant initiates an interaction, responses follow the interaction. We refer to this as reciprocity. When the infant and caregiver elicit responses from each other, it is a sign of reciprocity.

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What is interactional synchrony? 


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Answer

Interactional synchrony means that one person mirrors another person's interactions, such as facial expressions and body language. Caregiver-infant interaction is about the reciprocity of behaviour – it is a 'conversation' using behaviours and emotions.

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Question

What were Condon and Sander's (1974) conclusions?


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Answer

Condon and Sander concluded that babies pay attention to sounds early on and converse with seemingly random movements and gestures.

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What was the conclusion of Field's (1978) study?


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Answer

Field (1978) concluded that parental behaviour, not gender, is more important in establishing attachment with the infant. Fathers may exhibit caring behaviours normally associated with mothers.

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According to Bowlby, how are fathers more likely to interact with their children?

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Answer

Through play.


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What did Grossman's (2002) study observe in parents, and how was it measured?


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Answer

The Grossman (2002) study observed play sensitivity in parents. Play sensitivity was measured using the Sensitive and Challenging Interactive Play Scale (SCIP).

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Question

What were the findings and conclusions of the MacCullum and Golombok (2004) study?


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Answer

The results of MacCullum and Golombok's (2004) study stated that children who grew up in either a single-parent family or a same-sex family showed no differences in development compared to children who grew up in a heterosexual two-parent family. This suggests that the father's role in child development may not be as important or pronounced.

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Question

Rank the four stages of attachment found by Schaffer and Emerson (1964) according to the age of the infant.

  1. Specific attachment

  2. Asocial 

  3. Multiple attachments

  4. Indiscriminate attachment

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Answer

The order is B, D, A, and C. The four stages of attachment found by Schaffer and Emerson are: asocial (0-6 weeks), indiscriminate attachment (6 weeks - 7 months), specific attachment (7-9 months), and multiple attachments (10 months+).

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Schaffer and Emerson (1974) found that no primary attachment figure exists for infants at 18 months. Is this true or false?


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This is false. At 18 months, the mother is still the primary attachment figure for infants.

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What is sensitive responsiveness?


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Sensitive responsiveness means responding accurately to an infant or child's responses, such as communicating or playing with the child and responding to their demands. Demands may include crying for attention or asking for something, such as a toy. Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that infants are more likely to have a stronger attachment to those who show sensitive responsiveness than those who spend more time with the infant.

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Question

An infant is sitting on the floor, playing with his toy. It sees the caregiver walk by and begins to cry and raises its arms. The caregiver puts down what they were holding and takes the child in their arms to reassure it. The baby stops crying and is content. What does this example represent?


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The example represents sensitive responsiveness. The caregiver responded accurately (they picked up the infant) to the infant's needs (the infant was crying and wanted the caregiver to hold it).

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Question

What are some difficulties in researching caregiver infant interactions?


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Answer

Difficulties include the lack of reliability of testing infants, observer bias, and individual factors such as differences in attachment style.

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What are attachment figures?

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Answer

Attachment figures are objects or points of attachment for a person. In the context of caregiver infant interactions, an attachment figure is a person with whom a child has an attachment, usually a caregiver. A caregiver may be a biological parent or guardian.

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Question

What was the aim of Field's (1978) study?

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Answer

Field (1978) examined the role of fathers as primary caregivers compared to mothers.

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Which three types of caregivers did Field's (1978) study examine?

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Answer

Field (1978) examined the following types of caregivers: primary caregiver mothers, primary caregiver fathers, and secondary caregiver fathers.

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What do the findings of Field's (1978) study suggest about the role of the father?

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Answer

Field's (1978) research suggests fathers can be primary caregivers in the same way mothers can. Thus, fathers can have essential roles as attachment figures.

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What is Bowlby’s theory’s name suggesting infants are predisposed to form one ‘main’ attachment?

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Answer

The monotropic theory (1969).

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Describe the procedure used in Grossman's (2002) study.

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Grossman carried out a longitudinal study and examined both the mother and father's quality of play with the child at the ages of 6, 10 and 16.

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What did the Grossman (2002) study measure and how?

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Answer

It measured the play sensitivity of both parents using the sensitive and challenging interactive play scale (SCIP).

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The findings in the Grossman (2002) study suggested that fathers do not have an essential role in the child's long-term attachment. Is this true or false?

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Answer

False. The play sensitivity of the father helped predict the child's long-term attachment. This finding suggests fathers have a stimulatory role in children's development.

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Question

What was the aim of MacCallum and Golombok's (2004) study?


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Answer

MacCallum and Golombok wanted to compare the development of children from families without a father figure, such as single-parent and same-sex families, with those of children from two-parent, heterosexual families.

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Question

Which three types of families MacCallum and Golombok's (2004) study compared?

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MacCallum and Golombok used the following types of families: two-parent heterosexual, two-parent same-sex (lesbian), and single-parent heterosexual (mother) families.

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Question

What were the findings of MacCallum and Golombok's (2004) study?


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MacCallum and Golombok found that children from single-parent or same-sex families did not have any major differences in social and emotional development compared to children that grew up in a family with a father. Moreover, children who did not have fathers in their families were not negatively affected by the absence of a father.

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Question

What practical applications can research into the role of the father have?


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Answer

Research into the role of the father can have useful practical applications such as in social policy, quality of childcare, work-life balance and in adjusting cultural perceptions of child-rearing.

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Question

Which study undermines the importance of the role of the father?

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Answer

The study of fatherless families by MacCallum and Golombook (2004) undermines the importance of the role of the father as it suggests that the absence of a father does not negatively impact children's development. The study also found no difference in social and emotional development between children with fathers and children without fathers.

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What is the main weakness of the research into the role of the father?

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Answer

The main weakness of the research into the role of the father is the inconsistency of the findings. There is little agreement in results, which makes it difficult to answer questions about the role of the father.

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Which factors make it difficult to study the role of the father?

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Factors such as the father's work-life balance, age, health and attitude towards gender roles make it difficult to study the role of the father.

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Question

Define the stages of attachment.

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Answer

The stages of attachment in infants are stages of development during which infants form attachments to their primary caregiver and other people around them.

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What was the aim of Schaffer and Emerson's 1964 study?

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Schaffer and Emerson aimed to find the age at which infants start forming attachments. They also wanted to find out with whom they formed these attachments and how strong they were.

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What kind of study was used to observe the infants?

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The infants were observed using a longitudinal study.

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What were the intervals at which the infants were observed?

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Researchers observed the babies at the following intervals; every four weeks for the first year of the baby’s life and once at 18 months.

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Where were the infants observed in the duration of the study?

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Researchers observed the infants in their homes.

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In which two ways did the researchers measure infants’ attachment?

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The researchers measured attachment by observing the baby’s behaviour in the scenarios of separation anxiety and stranger anxiety.

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Question

At 18 months, what percentage of infants had multiple attachments formed with siblings, grandparents, neighbours, etc.?

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Answer

18%

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Question

Which stage of attachment describes the following attachment behaviours? What age is the infant at this stage of attachment?


  • Infants start to experience and demonstrate separation anxiety from their primary caregiver.
  • A fear of strangers is developed at this age.

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Answer

This stage of attachment is specific attachment, which occurs around the ages of 7-9 months.

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According to the study, at what age do infants start forming multiple attachments?

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At the age of 10 months, infants start forming multiple attachments.

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Who was the infants’ main attachment figure at 18 months?

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Answer

The infants’ mothers were still the main attachment figures at 18.

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Question

According to the researchers, who are infants more likely to form attachments to?

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Answer

The researchers concluded that sensitive responsiveness is more critical in infants than who spends more time with the infant. Sensitive responsiveness involves responding to the infant's signals includes communicating and playing with the infant and responding to its demands. Infants are more likely to form attachments to those who show higher levels of sensitive responsiveness.

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Question

Why did Schaffer and Emerson's study have high ecological validity?

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Answer

The observation study had high ecological validity as researchers observed the babies in their natural settings (their homes). Their behaviour was natural.

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What is the method of the study replicable?

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The method of the study was replicable because researchers visited the infants at regular intervals. 

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Why may the parents’ behaviour have affected the findings of the study?

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Answer

The parents may have shown demand characteristics as they knew they were being observed. This factor may have affected the validity of the results.

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Question

Outline the issue with the sample size of the study.

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Answer

The sample only consisted of 60 working-class Glaswegian families; it is not representative of a broader population, and therefore, the findings are not generalisable.

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