Infant touching behaviour during mother–infant face-to-face interactions



The study of infant communication during mother–infant interactions has largely focused on infants' distal behaviours, while neglecting their more proximal behaviours, such as touch. Yet, touch is an important modality through which infants and mothers communicate; it is also a vital means through which infants self-regulate and explore their surroundings. The present study was designed to investigate the touching behaviours of 44, 51/2-month-old, healthy, full-term infants during face-to-face mother–infant interactions. A still-face (SF) procedure was used in order to examine differences in the types and locations of infant touch across normal and perturbed interaction periods, when mothers exhibit changes in their emotional availability. Results revealed that infant touch varied with changes in maternal availability. During the SF period, when mothers were unavailable, infants used more active, soothing, and reactive tactile behaviours (stroke, finger, pat, and pull), and they spent more time touching themselves. In contrast, infants used mostly passive touch (static) during the Normal periods, when their mothers were available. They also spent a significant portion of time touching their mothers. The variations in infant touch across periods suggest that infants communicate their affective states through touch. The findings also support the regulatory and exploratory roles of infant touch, especially during periods of maternal unavailability. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.