How Infants Use Touch During Interactions

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Patrick Truly

 

            Touch plays a vital role throughout our entire lives, but can be an even more pivotal interaction in infants.  This study conducted by Moszkowski & Stack (2007) aimed to investigate the ways in which infants used touch in different aspects of mother-to-infant behaviors.  The authors used 44 infants around the age of 5 ½ months that were healthy and were carried to full-term.  A procedure called still-face (SF) was used in which mothers would gaze at their child but would remain expression-less and would not interact with their child.  The mothers were given instructions to play with their baby in a normal interaction for approximately two minutes.  After a thirty-second break, the SF period began and lasted for two minutes.  The second “normal” period would begin following another thirty-second frame and would end after two minutes.  The sessions were conducted in the homes of the volunteers and were all video-recorded.  All outside distractions, including pets and siblings, were minimized and the infant had no toys or pacifiers with which they could play.  The authors hypothesized that during the SF period, infants would touch themselves more than they would touch their mothers.  They also predicted the type of touch would vary based on the mothers’ behavior.

            The results indicated the authors were correct in both of their assumptions.  Infants spent more time in a “self-stimulation” role when their mothers were unavailable (or appeared that way during the SF period).  The authors concluded that infants used touch to interact with their mothers as a way of communicating with them.  The infants were, in essence, telling their mothers that their interaction was sufficient to their needs.  This idea was confirmed by the infants touching themselves (and/or their clothes) instead of interacting with their mothers during the SF period.

            The textbook states that touch “stimulates infants to reach their full social and intellectual potential” (Burgoon et al, 2010, p.146).  I chose this particular study because I recently became an uncle for the first time.  My nephew is 5 months old, which was the age of the infants used in this study.  I have also been paying more attention to how he responds to certain touches and interactions ever since I read in the textbook how touch is important to development for babies.  I was intrigued by the results of the study, especially how infants used touch to stimulate themselves when there was no outside stimulation, even for a few minutes.  It was also interesting to learn how babies use touch to communicate and impart information to others.  Specifically, the authors noted that when the infants used touch on themselves, they were regulating their own emotional needs when it was unavailable from their mothers.

            I never really thought about the importance of touch and stimulation to babies until recently.  I have noticed that when I am with my nephew, I analyze his movements, touch, and facial expressions (or lack of each).  Knowing how these moments help him develop, I believe that he and I will be connected on a deeper level because of these interactions. 

 

Sources:

Moszkowski, R. J., & Stack, D. M. (2007). Infant touching behavior during mother–infant face-to-face interactions. Infant & Child Development, 16(3), 307-319. doi:10.1002/icd.510

 Burgoon, J.K., Guerrero, L.K., & Floyd, K. (2010).  Nonverbal Communication.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies_work/2013/04/30/cultural_differences_in_how_you_talk_and_look_at_your_baby.html

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