Tactile communication across the first year of life - the complexity of naturalistic dyadic patterns and the effects of contextual, age and affectual factors.
Type of content
Early intimate interactions between mothers and their infants are characterised by mutuality and reciprocity. Although a great deal is known about the distal processes such as gaze and affect, by concentrating on touch this research addresses a key aspect of early life interactions that has received far less attention. this research comprises a single major quasi-experimental and observational longitudinal study, exploring the naturalistic interactions between mothers and their full-term infants (n=32). Dyads were videotaped in their own homes at five age points across the first year - 6 weeks, 3,6,9,12 months. A contextual variation was introduced at 6 months by providing a selection of novel toys for the dyads to play with. Each second of a selected 5 minute period of interaction of both free and toy play contexts were coded using a coding schedule for the type of touch, location of touch, intensity of touch, gaze direction and affectual displays. Repeated measures of analyses of variance revealed differences in the duration and locations of touch, and changes in maternal and infant affect and gaze across the first year. Patterns in these non-verbal communicative strategies were shaped by both age and context. Results revealed that overall maternal touch decreased over the first year of life and the mothers used more passive than active forms of touch when interacting with their infants. The duration of gaze at face decreased for mothers and infants over time, while gaze at body and object increased. Infant initiated touch was both low in frequency and duration but showed commonalities across dyads. The results are discussed drawing on insights from ethology, attachment theory, systems theory and the complexity of the multimodal features of interactive exchange. The results underscore the implications for tactile stimulation in early patterns of communication.