Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Department name when degree awarded

Family and Human Development


Russell A. Isabella


Researchers of social development during infancy have long viewed social competence as a reflection of the infant's experiences during early social interactions. In this context of social interaction, the infant's earliest developmental task involves the ability to regulate arousal; with continued development and the accumulation of interactional experiences, the infant takes a more active role as an initiator/elicitor of interaction. A particularly salient type of social exchange during infancy occurs when mother and infant engage in face-to-face interaction. Consequently, it was the goal of this study to examine maternal and infant behavior in the context of face-to-face interaction in order to: 1) identify those maternal behaviors that promote the infant's capacity to regulate arousal and subsequently act as a competent interactive partner; and 2) examine the extent to which early social development proceeds in a continuous manner.

Thirty-one infant-mother dyads were videotaped in two 3-minute episodes of face-to-face interaction at 1 and 4 months. The first episode involved spontaneous face-to-face interaction; the second episode involved an attention-getting manipulation of maternal behavior. Maternal and infant interactive behaviors were coded for each episode at both ages. No significant differences were found in maternal or infant behavior across episodes, thus allowing for the data to be pooled. Significant findings regarding maternal behavior included the following: maternal interactive behavior was found to remain stable across time at the individual and normative levels; maternal behavior was positively associated with infant behavior at both ages; and maternal silence during infant gaze aversion was predictive of infant regulation of arousal. Conversely, infant behavior did not remain stable across time, at either the individual or normative level, thus suggesting that infants are changing. A most revealing association was discovered between 1-month maternal physical activity and 4-month infant regulation of arousal, suggesting that maternal behavior may have long-range effects on infant social competence. Consequently, from these findings, it has been suggested that maternal intrusive behaviors (e.g., physical activity, silence during infant gaze aversion) are focal in infant regulation of arousal and subsequent interactive competence.