Infant responses to changes in parental behavior: A comparison of two still-face situations

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Daniel Messinger - Committee Chair


This study examined infants' social understanding of two contexts involving parental non-responsiveness, one with parental eye contact and one without parental eye contact. Forty-three 6-month-old infants were presented with four consecutive two-minute episodes: face-to-face, still-face, face-to-face, still-face. During the face-to-face episodes, the parent interacted naturally with the infant. Two different still-face episodes were used. The parent maintained an expressionless face during both still-face episodes and looked directly at the infant during the gaze-at still-face episode or above and behind the infant during the gaze-above still-face episode. The order of the presentation of the two still-face conditions was counterbalanced creating two groups, the At-Above group and the Above-At group.The amount infants displayed gaze directed at the parent's face, smiles, and negative affect, as well as the frequency with which infants produced neutral/positive, fussy, or cry vocalizations was examined across all four episodes. The results indicated that infants from both groups responded to the protocol in a similar manner. Infants responded to both still-face episodes with decreased gaze at the parent's face, decreased smiling, increased neutral/positive vocalizations, and increased negative affect. Increased fussing was observed in response to the first still-face episode and increased crying was observed in response to the second still-face episode. Smiling, gazing at the parent's face, and the production of neutral/positive vocalizations returned to baseline levels during the reunion episode. Negative affect, fussing, and crying increased across episodes and did not show any recovery toward baseline values. It was concluded that 6-month-old infants did not demonstrate an understanding of the role of eye contact within non-interactive contacts. The presence of a non-interactive parent appeared to be a powerful stimulus that drove the infant's response during the still-face conditions regardless of the direction of the parent's eyes.The responses of individual infants to the protocol were also considered. The percentage of infants who responded in the same manner as the pattern suggested by the mean ranged from 39% to 94% across the episodes. The need for a better understanding of the factors which influence each infant's response to the still-face condition is discussed.


Psychology, Developmental; Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

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