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Chapter: Psychology: Development

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The Earliest Interactions - Socioemotional Development in Infancy and Childhood

The Earliest Interactions - Socioemotional Development in Infancy and Childhood
From the earliest days of life, infants seem predisposed to look at human faces, and even newborns just a few minutes old look longer at schematic faces than at a scrambled face .

THE EARLIEST INTERACTIONS

From the earliest days of life, infants seem predisposed to look at human faces, and even newborns just a few minutes old look longer at schematic faces than at a scrambled face (Figure 14.17; Fantz, 1963; Goren, Sarty, & Wu, 1975; M. H. Johnson, 1993; but also see Turati, 2004). Infants also tend to imitate faces. In one study, investigators sat face to face with infants less than 21 days old and made faces at them. The investigators stuck out their tongues at the infants or opened their mouths as wide as possible. Careful scrutiny of the infants’ faces showed that when the investigators stuck out their tongues, the infants did too. When the investigators’ mouths gaped wide open, so did the babies’ (Meltzoff, 2002; Figure 14.18).


 

As infants attend to—and respond to—the faces they see, they are gaining an under-standing  of  their  social  partners.  For  example,  between  3  and  4 months  of  age, infants  begin  to  appreciate  some  rudimentary  facts about  emotional  expression  and  so  respond  more  positively  when their mother’s facial expression (happy or sad) matches the emotional tone of the mother’s voice (Kahana-Kalman & Walker-Andrews, 2001; Montague & Walker-Andrews, 2002). Infants also learn early on that their caretakers are a source of relief in times of distress. By 6 months or so, they start to calm down, apparently anticipating an adult’s aid, as soon as they hear the sound of the adult’s approaching footsteps. If the adult approaches and then does not pick up the distressed child, the infant is likely to protest loudly (Gekoski, Rovee-Collier, & Carulli-Blank Rabinowitz, 1983; Lamb & Malkin, 1986).


In these ways, even the very young child begins learning about social interactions—and, in particular, starts to develop expectations for others’ behavior. The opportunity for social learning broadens considerably when infants begin to crawl. This is because they soon end up in inappropriate or even dangerous situations: The infant wants to crawl toward the steep staircase, or the mud puddle, or the broken glass, and the caretaker needs to thwart these desires. Conflict is inevitable in these situations so it’s no wonder that parental pro-hibitions, including use of the word no, become much more common when the child begins to move about (Zumbahlen & Crawley, 1997).

 

Locomotion also allows the infant to wander into strange or ambiguous situations, and this is why infants at this age begin to rely on social partners for guidance about how they should respond to unfamiliar events (Campos et al., 2000). Specifically, infants engage in social referencing—relying on the facial expression of their caregiver or some other adultas a source of information (Carver & Vaccaro, 2007). Is the cat dangerous? If Mom is look-ing at the cat and seems happy and unconcerned, then the infant relaxes. If Mom is look-ing at the cat and seems anxious, then the infant grows wary (Figure 14.19; Rosen, Adamson, & Bakeman, 1992; Striano & Rochat, 2000).


 

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