Caregiver – Infant Interactions

– Infancy is the period of a child’s life before speech begins

– Attachment begins with the interactions between infants and their caregivers

– It is the responsiveness of the caregivers to the infant’s signals that have profound effects

– One of the key interacts between caregivers and infants is their non-verbal communication


– Reciprocity is responding to the action of another with a similar interaction, where the actions of one partner elicit a response from the other partner

– Mother-infant interaction is reciprocal in that both infant and mother respond to each other’s signals and each elicits a response from the other.                                                   

– From birth babies and their carers spend a lot of time in intense and pleasurable interaction.

– Babies have periodic alert phases and signal that they are ready for interaction


– Mother’s typically pick up on and respond to infant alertness around two-thirds of time.

– From around three months this interaction tends to be increasingly frequent and involves close attention to each other’s verbal signals and facial expressions.                                   

– According to Feldman, reciprocity can be seen in interactions from 3 months of age.

-This conclusion was supported by Meltzoff & Moore (1997) who demonstrated that babies as young as 12-27 days would attempt to imitate facial and physical gestures.


– Sees the baby as taking an active, not passive, role

– Both mother and child can initiate interactions and they appear to take turns in doing so.

– He described this interaction as a ‘dance’ because it looks just like a couple’s dance where they respond to each other’s moves

– He suggested that is basic rhythm is an important persecutor to future communications.

– The regularity of an infant’s signals allows care a caregiver to anticipate the infant’s behaviour and respond appropriately. T

– His sensitivity to infant behaviour lays the foundation for later attachment between caregiver and infants


– This is when two people interact and they tend to mirror what the other is doing in terms of facial and body movements.

– This is when both mother and infant reflect both the actions and emotions of the other and do this is a coordinated synchronised way.

-This can occur in infants as young as two weeks old and is important for the development of mother-infant attachment.


– Conducted the first systematic study of interactional synchrony

– They found that infants as young as 2 to 3 weeks old imitated specific facial and hand gestures.


– The study was conducted using an adult model who displayed one of three facial expressions or hand movements where the fingers moved in a sequence.

– A dummy was placed in the infant’s mouth during the initial display to prevent any response.

– Following the display the dummy was removed and the child expression was film on video.


– They found that there was an association between the infant behaviour and that of the adult model.

– In a later study they demonstrated the same synchrony with infants only 3 days old.

– The fact that infants as young as this would explain the behaviour with appear to rule out the possibility that the in imitation behaviours are learnt, which means that they must be innate.



Well Controlled

– Observations of mother-infant interactions are well controlled procedures 

– Both mother and infant are filmed, often from multiple angles.

– This ensures that the fine details of the behaviour can be recorded and later analysed

– Also, babies do not know that they are being observed so their behaviour does not change in response to controlled observation.

-This is a strength because it means the research has good validity.

The Value of Research

– The importance of imitative behaviour is that it forms the basis for social development.

– Meltzoff has developed a ‘like me’ hypothesis of infant development based on his research and interactional synchrony.

– He proposes that there is a connection between all the influences and the imitation of this.

– Infants associate their own acts and their underlying mental state.

– Infants reject their own internal experiences onto others performing similar acts.

– As a result infants begin to acquire an understanding of what other people are thinking and feeling, which is fundamental for conducting social relationships.

– Therefore, a strength for this research is that explains how children begin to understand what others think and feel, and thus are able to conduct relationships.


Failure to replicate

-Many have tried to replicate the findings of Meltzoff’s study and failed.

– Marian et al replicated the study and found that infants couldn’t distinguish live from videotaped interactions with their mothers.

-This suggests infants aren’t actually responding to the adult.

– Therefore, a limitation of this study is that the findings have not been replicated

Problems with Testing Infant Behaviour

– There is reason to have some doubt about the findings of research because of the difficulties in reliability testing infant behaviour.

– Infant’s mouths are in fairly constant motion and the expressions that are tested occur frequently.

– This makes it difficult to distinguish between general activity and specific imitated behaviours.

– To overcome these Meltzoff and Moore measured infant responses by filming infants and then asking an observer to judge the infants behaviour on the video.

– This research highlights the difficulties and testing infant behaviour, but also suggest one way of increasing the internal validity of the data.