Caregiver—infant interactions in humans - Attachment

AQA A-level Psychology: Revision Made Easy - Jean-Marc Lawton 2017

Caregiver—infant interactions in humans


Interactions between a caregiver and an infant serve to develop and maintain the attachment bond between them. Though an infant cannot talk at this stage of development, meaningful and complex communication between the infant and caregiver does occur in several ways.

Interactional synchrony concerns how infants move their bodies in time with the rhythm of their caregivers’ vocal language to create a type of ’turn-taking’, as seen in 2-way spoken conversations. This helps to reinforce and maintain the attachment bond between infants and caregivers.

Reciprocity concerns the interactions between caregivers and infants that result in mutual behaviour, where both individuals motivate responses from each other. This also serves to reinforce and maintain the attachment bond.

Bodily contact concerns the physical interactions between caregivers and infants that help to form the attachment bond, especially in the period immediately after birth.

Mimicking concerns infants’ apparent innate ability to imitate their caregivers’ facial expressions. This is seen as a biological device to assist in the formation of attachments.

Caregiverese concerns how adults who interact with infants often use a modified form of vocal language that is high-pitched, slow, repetitive and song-like. This assists communication between caregivers and infants and again helps strengthen and maintain attachment bonds.


Fig 3.1 Interactions between caregivers and infants help to develop and maintain attachment bonds

Focal study

Papousek et al. (1991) investigated whether ’caregiverese’ (see page 37) is universal. They did this by performing a cross-cultural study involving mothers and infants in 3 diverse countries. It was found that mothers in America, China and Germany all exhibited the same behaviour of using a rising tone to indicate to their infants that it was their turn in an interaction between the pair. This supports the idea that caregiverese is an innate, biological device to help promote the formation and maintenance of attachments.


• Condon & Sander (1974) slowed down infants’ movements by analysing frame-by-frame video recordings of their actions to find that they moved in sequence with adults’ speech to create a type of turn-taking ’conversation’. This supports the idea of interactional synchrony.

• Melzoff & Moore (1977) reported that 2- to 3-week-old infants tend to imitate adults’ specific facial expressions and hand movements. This supports the notion that infant mimicry is an innate ability that helps to form attachments, especially as it was later observed in infants of less than 3 days old.

• Klaus & Kennell (1976) performed a comparison of mothers who had lengthy periods of physical contact with their babies that lasted several hours a day with mothers who only had physical contact with their babies during feeding in the 3 days after birth. They found that mothers with the greater physical contact cuddled their infants more and made greater eye contact with them. The effects were still noticeable a year later, which suggests greater physical contact creates stronger and closer attachment formation.

Positive evaluation

Image Klaus & Kennell’s (1976) findings that infants who have greater physical contact with their mothers go on to develop stronger and closer attachments is backed up by Chateau & Wiberg (1984), who found the same results with middle-class Swedish mothers.

Image The study of infant—caregiver interactions has seen the development of innovative research methods, such as analysing video recordings of interactions frame-by-frame as performed by Condon & Sander (1974). This has allowed psychologists to gain an understanding of such interactions and their role in helping form attachments.

Image Non-verbal forms of communication between infants and caregivers have an evolutionary survival value, as they help a child to be nurtured and protected. Infants can express their needs and have them met. The attachment bond such communications help to create also serves to keep close proximity between infant and caregiver.

Negative evaluation

Image Interactional synchrony is not found in all cultures. Le Vine et al. (1994) reported that Kenyan mothers have little such interactions with their infants, but form a high amount of secure attachments (see page 46). This goes against the idea that interactional synchrony is necessary for healthy attachment development.

Image Caregiverese is often used by adults with all infants, not just the ones they have an attachment with. Therefore, although it seems to assist communication between adults and children, it is possible that it does not specifically help form attachments.

Image Infants cannot speak, so interpreting their behaviour is problematic, making it difficult to draw conclusions about infant—caregiver interactions.

Practical application

A practical application that comes from Klaus & Kennell’s study is that hospitals now place mothers and babies in the same room after birth (rather than in different rooms, which used to be the case) to encourage the formation of attachments.