A behavioral study of maternal-infant interaction with focus on infant attachment and infant cognition
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Joseph C. LaVoie
C. Raymond Millimet
This study examined the interactions between 15 maternal-infant dyads using an operant learning format with special emphasis on the relationship of infant attachment to maternal behaviors, specifically the securityinsecurity dimension of infant attachment. Observations of maternal-infant interactions were made each month from infant ages 9 months to 12 months. Maternal and infant behaviors were coded and each category was scored for frequency and duration of behavior with an Esterline-Angus Event Recorder. Maternal ratios of responding and latency in responding to infant behaviors were calculated from the Esterline-Angus charts. Infants were administered several cognition tests and an attachment test, while mothers were given several attitude measures. Intercorrelations of infant behavior suggested three systems of organized behaviors distress contact with mother, positive or affillative contact with mother, and exploratory behaviors. Infant behavior was unstable across months, and evidence was found that infant behaviors change with development, in that certain behaviors take on new meanings and different patterns of organization in the interaction between mother and child. Few relationships were found between infant behavior and the attachment test results, except that insecurely attached infants tended to emit more verbal distress and touching behavior. Important factors found in a factor analysis of infant behavior weres Lack of physical contact with mother, distress contact with mother, and non-verbal distal contact. Intercorrelations of maternal behaviors indicated more stability across months than for infant behaviors, with the most stable behaviors being distal contact and stimulation behaviors, whereas the most stable infant behaviors were proximity seeking behaviors. From a factor analysis of maternal behaviors, two important factors emerged: An
acceptance and. child-oriented factor and a verbal factor. The maternal responsiveness and latency data did not cluster into one or two factors, rather these measures loaded on several factors. No relationship was found between maternal ratio of responding and frequency of infant behaviors, latency measures were related to infant behaviors, but contrary to the operant position, longer latencies to infant proximity seeking behaviors increased the frequency and duration of these behaviors, whereas shorter latencies to infant social affiliative behaviors did increase these behaviors, thus some infant behaviors demonstrated agreement with the operant position. There were few significant relationships between infant cognition measures and maternal behaviors, or between infant cognition and mater nal responsiveness ratios and latency measures. The findings support a modified ethological position to infant socialization rather than an operant position. An ethological or control and communication theory assumes infants have goals and a repetoire of behaviors to achieve these goals. Infants can alternate behaviors to achieve goals. If a selected behavior does not result in goal satisfaction, other behaviors are available for use Some determinants of this repetoire of behaviors include: developmental changes in specific response capabilities due to maturation, developmental re-organization of infant behaviors into more discrete and efficient behavioral system, and the reactions of the caretaker to infant behavioral overtures leading to inf suit goal satisfaction. The major goals for infants are proximity contact with attachment object, social stimulation from the caretaker, and exploration of the environment. No strong relationships between maternal variables and infant security of attachment were found, although infants of more responsive mothers evidenced more proximity seeking behavior as shown by more following and touching behavior.
McNickle, Bruce, "A behavioral study of maternal-infant interaction with focus on infant attachment and infant cognition" (1979). Student Work. 275.
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