Caregiver Infant Interactions

When you were a baby, who took care of you? Maybe it was mostly a parent, grandparent, or another relative. Perhaps you had a foster parent or received care from multiple daycare workers. The person who was with you most and provided for your essential needs.

Caregiver Infant Interactions Caregiver Infant Interactions

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Contents
Table of contents
    • First, let's identify the caregiver-infant interaction definition.
    • Then, let's discuss caregiver-infant interaction in psychology.
    • We'll continue by discussing some caregiver-infant interaction examples.
    • Moving on, we will identify some caregiver-infant interaction difficulties.
    • Finally, we'll evaluate the caregiver-infant interaction.

    Caregiver Infant Interaction Definition

    In psychology, caregiver-infant interactions are between babies or infants and their parents or guardians (the caregivers). Caregiver-infant interactions are a way of establishing 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. In psychology, examples of caregiver-infant interactions would be reciprocity and interactional synchrony.

    When the infant and caregiver elicit responses from each other, it is a sign of reciprocity.

    Reciprocity is when the caregiver or infant initiates interaction, and a response follows the interaction.

    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.

    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.

    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 early and converse with physical movements and gestures that may seem random at first glance.

    Interactional synchrony occurs when one person mirrors the interactions of another, such as through facial expressions and body language.

    Meltzoff and Moore (1977) observed another example of 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.

    Caregiver Infant Interactions, mother holding infant baby and smiling, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Mother-child interaction aids the development of attachments.

    Caregiver Infant Interaction: Psychology

    Mary Ainsworth was one of the most important researchers of caregiver-infant interaction in psychology. To study the caregiver-infant interaction, Ainsworth used a method she designed called the strange situation.

    The strange situation is a procedure used to observe and study the caregiver-infant attachment in which the child is placed in an unfamiliar environment; the child's reaction is observed when the caregiver leaves and later returns. In addition, to how the presence of a stranger affects them.

    Using strange situation experiments to form her attachment theory, Ainsworth presents three types of attachment that a person begins to develop from infancy.

    Secure attachment: infants with this attachment style are comfortable with exploring new environments when their caregiver is present and are only temporarily distressed when their caregiver leaves, and when their caregiver returns, they are comforted.

    Insecure-resistant attachment: infants with this attachment style are extremely clingy, have difficulty exploring independently, and become incredibly distressed when their caregiver leaves.

    Insecure-avoidant attachment: infants with this attachment style show little to no attention to their mother when they're in the room and no distress when they leave.

    Another important concept often discussed when considering caregiver-infant interactions in psychology is the critical period.

    Critical periods in the attachment theory concern the period in which a child should form an attachment with their primary caregiver. If this doesn't occur, it can lead to developmental, psychological and behavioural issues.

    Critical periods help explain why the caregiver-infant interaction can majorly impact a person's entire lifetime.

    Take the animal study conducted by Konrad Lorenz (1952) in which he observed the attachment of recently hatched goslings.

    Within 13 to 16 hours of being hatched, the goslings developed an attachment to the first moving object they saw, which was usually Lorenz.

    The longevity of these attachments supports the idea that attachment that occurs during critical periods can impact future attachment.

    Caregiver Infant Interaction Examples

    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, infants develop secondary attachments to their father and other family members, which is also the beginning of multiple attachments.

    By 18 months, 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 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 Interaction Difficulties

    One of the difficulties of caregiver-infant interaction research in psychology is that it focuses too much on the mother -- but what about the father's role? Luckily, researchers such as Field (1978) and Bowlby (1988) 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.

    Caregiver Infant Interactions: Fathers as Primary Caregivers (Field, 1978)

    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 how mothers usually do.

    Caregiver Infant Interactions: Role of the Father (Bowlby, 1988)

    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.

    Caregiver infant interactions, Forming multiple attachments essential for child development, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 - Forming multiple attachments is essential for a child'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.

    And 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.

    What about single-parent or same-sex families? MacCallum and Golombok (2004) found that children who grew up in these families showed no differences in development compared to children who grew up in a heterosexual family with two parents.

    Caregiver Infant Interaction Evaluation

    When we evaluate the caregiver-infant interaction research in psychology, we run into a few common problems and limitations, including the reliability of infant testing, observer bias, and individual differences.

    Caregiver Infant Interactions: 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.

    Caregiver Infant Interactions: Caregiver Infant Interactions: 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.

    Inter-observer reliability is commonly used in observational research, and it involves comparing the results found and analysed by multiple trained people.

    Caregiver Infant Interactions: Individual Differences

    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

    • The Caregiver-infant interaction definition is the interaction between babies or infants and their parents or guardians (the caregivers).
    • To study the caregiver-infant interaction, Ainsworth often used the strange situation. She found three types of attachment styles in infants: secure attachment, insecure-resistant attachment, and insecure-avoidant attachment.
    • An important caregiver-infant interaction example research is the Schaffer and Emerson (1964) study which found that the primary attachment of infants to their mothers occurs at about 6-7 months of age.
    • Field (1978) 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.
    • Caregiver infant interaction evaluation of research runs into a few common problems and limitations, including the reliability of infant testing, observer bias, and individual differences.
    Caregiver Infant Interactions Caregiver Infant Interactions
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Caregiver Infant Interactions

    How can we counter difficulties in investigating caregiver infant interactions?

    We can counter the 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.

    Is caregiver infant interaction socially sensitive?

    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.

    What are two features of caregiver-infant interaction?

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

    What is meant by reciprocity in caregiver-infant interactions?

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

    Why is caregiver-infant interaction so important?

    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.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

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

    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?

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

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