Crying as social behavior

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Abstract

Twenty mother-infant pairs were observed once a week for 7-hour periods when the infants were 2, 3, 4, and 5 weeks old. The occurrence of crying and its relationship to patterning of maternal behaviors was studied in two social contexts: while the mother was holding the infant and while she was not holding the infant. There were significant individual differences in the amount of crying in each of these contexts. The amount of crying in the two contexts was not correlated. Six variables describing forms of maternal attention throughout the 7-hour day were selected, and profiles were formed from measures of these variables. These profiles were found to vary systematically as a function of the amount of crying while the mother was holding the infant. In this context, only physical stimulation increased linearly with increased crying, whereas other forms of attention showed a U-shaped function in relation to increased crying. No relationship was found between crying while the mother was not holding the baby and patterns of interaction. We conclude that the structuring of a mother-infant relationship is reflected in the amount of crying that occurs while mother and infant are in close physical contact. The results also provide evidence that the social context for an infant's crying must be taken into account if the full adaptive value of crying is to be understood.

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