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Infants’ Thinking and Patterns of Communication

Introduction

The mother-infant bond is a special kind of bond that begins from the time of conception. This interaction continues even when a baby is born and continues throughout the infancy stage. Nevertheless, as infants, communication takes a unique pattern particularly in infants who have not yet started talking. It is common to observe young infants happy and content in the arms of their mothers but crying when a stranger pick them up. How is an infant able to distinguish between her/his mother and other adults? The answer boils down to communication and interaction between infants and those around them. Such communication and interaction change as infants grow from one stage of development to another. The pattern also varies according to the sex of the infant and the context in which the interaction is taking place. The topic of infants’ communication patterns with those around them, be they family members or strangers, is important in the understanding of children’s thinking and cognitive development. The aim of this paper is to carry out a literature review and critique on ten research articles that focus mainly on infants’ patterns of communication. The review will enable the readers to understand better the topic in question and to identify literature gaps that need to be addressed.

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Description of Articles

Vouloumanos and Werker (2007) conducted a study to determine if neonates exhibit a bias for speech. The main aim of the researchers was to uncover the early roots of listening bias in human beings. The researchers used a sample of twenty-two neonates aged between 1 and 4 days with a mean age of 45.1 hours. About two hours after feeding, the participants were given a sterilized pacifier tied to a pressured transducer. In addition, they were given a sound stimulus each time they delivered suction in the upper 80% of their sucking amplitude range. Analysis of the experiment was done using high amplitude sucks (HAS). From the analysis, the researchers found that listening bias exists in human neonates. The bias is similar to the one found in animals in which animals are biased towards certain auditory and visual information. The strength of this study lies in the fact that it is the first study to show listening bias in neonates.

Striano, Henning and Stahl (2005) conducted a study to examine the sensitivity of infants to social contingencies. The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, sixty-eight infants and their mothers took part in the study. The mean age of the infants was 45.2 days while their range was 36-58 days. 29 of the infants were male while 39 were female. All infants were Caucasian and lived in East Germany. Testing was carried out in a covered and carpeted room to get rid of any potential distractions. Mothers and their infants interacted in two visits which facilitated eye contact between the two. The types of interaction were normal, non-contingent and imitation interactions. In the second phase, 66 infants and their mothers took part in the study of which 29 were male and 37 were female. The mean and range of age were 109.8 and 88-128 respectively. The researchers found that in normal interaction, 3-months old infants smiled more at their mothers than during non-contingent and imitation interactions. They concluded that by the age of 3 months, infants become selectively attuned to their mothers.

Werker and Yeung (2005) state that infants can understand many verbal words by the time they are 1 year old. They argue that although research in cognitive development has always concentrated on the conceptual changes that are associated with word learning, the learning process also entails perceptual sophistication. Several developmental stages are necessary as infants learn to fragment, recognize and characterize the phonetic forms of words, and chart the words to create different ideas. The authors review current research on the unfolding of infants’ perceptual systems in the learning process, that is, from the sensitivity to speech stage to the identification of sound patterns stage. From the literature review, they find that the perception of speech is vital in the word learning process. They conclude that such a perception bootstraps the development of a separate but analogous phonological system that relates sound to meaning.

Jean, Stack and Fogel (2009) carried out a longitudinal investigation to examine the age and context effects of maternal touching during the first six months of life. The main goal of the study was to carry out an examination of maternal touching during the interactions between mothers and their infants in two different types of settings (lap and floor contexts) so as to portray the true picture of maternal touching development. The participants of the study consisted of 12 mother-infants dyads. Of the infants, 8 were males and 4 were females. All mothers were above 21 years of age. 11 of the mothers were Caucasian while the remaining one was African-American. The study was focused on the mother-infant interactions when the infants were 1, 3 and 5.5 months. Analysis of the data collected was done using analysis of variance (ANOVAs). The researchers found that mothers were likely to touch their infants more in the lap than in the floor context and that the amount of touch increased as infants’ age increased from 1 to 3 months. The amount of touch however declined as infants grow older because mothers use other forms of communication.

Striano (2004) conducted a study to determine if intention matters in the direction of regard and the still-face effect in the first year of life. The researcher used a sample of 120 full-term infants. 40 of the infants were 3-month-olds, 40 were 6-months-olds, and the remaining 40 were 9-month-olds. 90% of the infants were White and the remaining 10% were African American, all from the South of United States. The experiment was conducted in a small laboratory for child development that had white curtains around it to avoid any visual distractions. The interaction between the infants and the experimenter was filmed at intervals of minutes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and analyzed using ANOVA. From the analysis, the researchers found that by the age of 3 months, infants’ sensitivity to other peoples’ attention is developed and thus respond negatively when contact is broken. These results pinpoint the unique characteristic of human beings that humans tend to share attention with fellow human beings.

Hsu and Fogel (2003) employed a microhistorically approach to study the stability and transitions in mother-infant face-to-face communication in the first 6 months of life. The study was an attempt by the researchers to understand the relational, dynamic, and historical character of mother-infant communication during the specified time frame. The researchers used a sample of thirteen mother-infants’ dyads. Of the 13 participants, 12 were Caucasian and the remaining 1 was African American. 8 of the infants were male while 5 were female. The communication was videotaped weekly between the 4th and 24th weeks of the infants’ age. 210 total sessions of mother-infants unstructured play were observed on the dyads. The researchers identified three different patterns of communication between the mothers and their infants: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and unilateral. Results from the data analysis indicated that: there exist regularly recurring communication patterns between mothers and infants during the early infancy stage; the recurring patterns portray differential stabilities and possibilities of transitions; the stability in communication is influenced by individual features as well as by the dyad’s communication history; that communication histories have a differential impact on the self-organization of a dyadic system.

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The study by Lavelli and Fogel (2002) is an attempt to document the growth of the initial form of face-to-face communication between mothers and their infants. In total, 16 mother-infant dyads were selected to take part in the study. The infants were between the ages of 1 week and 14 weeks. The communication between the mothers and infants was videotaped in two different contexts: when the infant was in the arms of the mother, and when the infant was semi-reclined on a sofa. The results showed that the face-to-face communication between mothers and their infants was more intense between the age of 4 and 9 weeks. After the age of 8 weeks, the communication showed two different patterns: the first pattern is the one in which the intensity of communication increased while the second pattern is one in which the communication intensity peaked and then started to decline. After week 4, the duration of communication was longer in the sofa context than in the arms context. In the arms context, girls’ communication with their mothers was longer than boys’ communication with their mothers. The conclusion made was that age and sex determine the context of mother-infant communication.

Lavelli and Fogel (2005) also carried out a study to examine the developmental variations in mother-infant face-to-face communication during the first three months of life. The aims of the researchers were: to examine if young infants portray particular expressions when staring at their mothers’ faces; to record the developmental course of the duration of the identified patterns of attention and emotion during the first three months of life; to examine if there are any sequential relationships among the patterns of attention and emotion in the mother-infant face-to-face communication; to examine if the patterns of attention and emotion of the infants are associated with the vocal and facial expressions of the mother. 16 mother-neonates dyads took part in the study. The observations were made before, during, and after the occurrence of a developmental change. The results showed that the developmental course changed from the Simple Attention dominance to active and emotionally positive attention to the mother toward the end of the second month. Infants’ expressions change from simple (such as gazing and cycling) to complex expressions (such as smiling and cooing) as they approach the 2nd and 3rd months of life.

Hsu, Fogel and Cooper (2000) investigated the early development of infant non-distress vocalizations in their study. They used a sample of 13 infants, aged between 4 and 24 weeks, together with their mothers. Of the 13, 12 were Caucasian and the remaining one was African-American while 8 of the infants were male and 5 were female. The face-to-face communication patterns of these participants were observed on a weekly basis to determine the speech quality (syllabic and vocalic) and melodic complexity (simple and complex) of infant vocalizations. The observation was done in four different settings namely: la, floor, high chair, and table conditions. Data analysis was conducted through ANOVA. The researchers found significant differences in the mean duration and the rate per minute of infant non-distress vocalizations depending on their speech-like sound quality and complexity of the melodic contours. The syllabic sounds were longer and more frequent than the vocalic sounds. On the other hand, infant vocalizations with melodic contours were longer but less frequent than vocalizations with simple melodic contours. The researchers concluded that the growth of infants’ non-distress vocalizations during the first 6 months of life was characterized by a non-linear developmental course.

Bigelow, Power, Mcquaid and Ward (2008) conducted an experiment to distinguish between mother-infant interaction and stranger-infant interaction at the age of 2, 4, and 6 months. The study used 12 infants who were paired as mother-infant and stranger-infant dyads. 50 percent of the observers watched as each participating mother was paired with her own infant and with another infant of the same age. The other 50 percent of the observers watched as each infant was paired with his/her mother and with a stranger. The observers were 243 undergraduate students who were not parents. Videotaping was used to record the interactions in each mother-infant and stranger-infant dyad. The observers were then asked to determine from the pairs the mother-infant dyad. The accuracy of the observers in determining the mother-infant dyad increased as the infants grow older. This is because as the infants aged, the differences between their communication patterns with their mothers and with strangers intensified. At the age of 6 months, communication among the mother-infant dyads was more symmetrical than communication in the stranger-infant dyads.

Synthesis

The studies above all have one thing in common: they seek to investigate patterns of communication among infants. Nevertheless, there are some distinct differences and similarities between the studies.

The difference in the age of the infants

One of the differences among the studies is the difference in the age of the infants. The majority of the studies reviewed the above-used samples of infants aged between 1 and at least 6 months. However, some studies like the ones conducted by Vouloumanos and Werker (2007) and Striano, Henning and Stahl (2005) used relatively younger infants aged between 1 and 4 weeks and 36-58 days respectively. Others like Striano (2004) included infants up to the age of 9 months in his study.

The difference in the sample size

It is interesting to note that majority of the studies reviewed above used small sample sizes of infant-mothers’ dyads. Indeed, these sample sizes range between 12 and 22 pairs. The only exceptions to this trend are the sample used by Striano, Henning and Stahl (2005) and Striano (2004) which were 68 and 120 respectively. The sample size plays an important role in determining the accuracy of the results and the generalizations of the study’s findings to the entire target population. Usually, the size of the sampling error is high in small sample sizes and low in large sample sizes. As a result, it is possible that the results obtained by the studies that utilized small sample sizes may be biased.

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Demographic characteristics of the participants

All the above studies used a sample of mothers and infants from the dominant Caucasian ethnic group. Indeed, Caucasians made up more than 90 percent (and in some cases 100 percent) of the participants in all the above-mentioned studies. The only other ethnic group that was covered by some of these studies is African-Americans who made up less than 10 percent of the participants. Unfortunately, the use of a homogenous sample may not truly reflect the situation of infant communication across different ethnic groups. Communication patterns differ from one ethnic group to another due to cultural-based influences.

Type of dyads used in the studies

Eight of the ten studies reviewed the above-used mother-infant dyads to conduct their experiments. The study by Werker and Yeung (2005) is an exception to this because the study was not experimental in nature but a review of past research studies. The study by Bigelow, Power, Mcquaid and Ward (2008) is also an exception to this because in addition to including mother-infant dyads, the researchers also included stranger-infant dyads to determine patterns of communication between infants and their mothers. The inclusion of strangers in the study is a key strength in the study because it not only brings in a different angle to the experiment but it also cements the results of symmetrical communication patterns between mothers and infants found by previous researchers.

Procedures used

The procedures used in the studies are similar. The interaction between infants and their mothers (as well as strangers) was observed in a laboratory room by observers. The observations were then videotaped and the data collected was analyzed using statistical techniques such as analysis of variance (ANOVA). In addition, the majority of the studies observed the interactions in different settings such as when the infant is in the arms (and laps) of the mother when the infant is on a chair, and when the infant and the mother are on the floor. Despite the above-mentioned differences, all the studies show similar results. They show that communication patterns between infants and their mothers assume a non-linear pattern across infants’ development courses.

Conclusion, implications and Recommendation

In sum, the mother-infant communication pattern intensifies and becomes more complex as infants grow older. However, such a pattern varies depending on the age and sex of the infant as well as the context of communication. The findings from the studies would be strengthened by addressing the serious limitations, particularly, the limitation that results from the use of a homogenous sample. It is not without a doubt that the studies provide results that are useful to mothers and teachers. Nevertheless, because of the biasness brought about by the use of Caucasians, the findings may not apply to infants from other ethnic groups. It is therefore recommended that similar studies be conducted using infants and mothers from a wide range of ethnic groups such as African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics, to mention but a few. Such studies would be of great benefit to different ethnic populations.

Reference

Bigelow, A.E., Power, M., Mcquaid, N., & Ward, A. (2008). Distinguishing mother–infant interaction from stranger–infant interaction at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. Infancy, 13(2), 158-171.

Hsu, H., & Fogel, A. (2003). Stability and transitions in mother–infant face-to-face communication during the first 6 months: A microhistorical approach. Developmental Psychology, 39(6), 1061-1082.

Hsu, H., Fogel, A., & Cooper, R.B. (2000). Infant vocal development during the first 6 months: Speech quality and melodic complexity. Infant and Child Development, 9, 1-16.

Jean, A.D.L., Stack, D.M., & Fogel, A. (2009). A longitudinal investigation of maternal touching across the first 6 months of life: Age and context effects. Infant Behavior & Development, 32, 344-349.

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Lavelli, M., & Fogel, A. (2002). Developmental changes in mother–infant face-to-face communication: Birth to 3 months. Developmental Psychology, 38(2), 288-305.

Lavelli, M., & Fogel, A. (2005). Developmental changes in the relationship between the infant’s attention and emotion during early face-to-face communication: The 2-month transition. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 265-280.

Striano, T. (2004). Direction of regard and the still-face effect in the first year: Does intention matter? Child Development, 75(2), 468-479.

Striano, T., Henning, A., & Stahl, D. (2005). Sensitivity to social contingencies between 1 and 3 months of age. Developmental Science, 8(6), 509-518.

Vouloumanos, A., & Werker, J.F. (2007). Listening to language at birth: evidence for a bias for speech in neonates. Developmental Science, 10(2), 159-171.

Werker, J., & Yeung, H.H. (2005). Infant speech perception bootstraps word learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(11), 519-527.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 6). Infants’ Thinking and Patterns of Communication. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/infants-thinking-and-patterns-of-communication/

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