New Evidence for the Social Embeddedness of Infants' Early Triangular Capacities


  • Work on this study was supported by National Institute of Child Health and Development grants RO1 HD42179 and KO2 HD 47505 “Prebirth predictors of early coparenting” to the first author. Earlier versions of this report were presented at the 2007 meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association in New Orleans, LA and the 2008 International Conference on Infant Studies in Vancouver, Canada. We wish to thank Meagan Carleton, Amy Alberts, Regina Kuersten-Hogan, Oliver Hartman, Rebecca Lieberson, Holly DiMario, Tamir Rotman, Kate Fish, Eleanor Chaffe, and Stephanie Giampa for their assistance with the many home visits completed for this study; Rheanne Koller, Ghysleane Berthonneau, Julia Berkman, Jessica Thompson, Kathryn Kavanaugh, Donna Elliston, Evelyn Alvarez, Chris Scull, Carleton, Alberts, Rotman and Lieberson for their clinically astute ratings of the various home assessments; J.P. Thouveny for his expert consultation and craftsmanship in designing and constructing the portable orthopedic seat used to assess infants; the many central Massachusetts families who contributed generously of their time and energy to this project; and staff and administrators at Clark University and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg who supported this work.

concerning this article should be addressed to James McHale, USF-St. Petersburg, Department of Psychology, Family Study Center, Bldg. One, 140 17th Avenue, S., Suite 100, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. E-mail:


Infants appear to be active participants in complex interactional sequences with their parents far earlier than previously theorized. In this report, we document the capacity of 3-month-old infants to share attention with two partners (mothers and fathers) simultaneously, and trace links between this capacity and early family group-level dynamics. During comprehensive evaluations of the family's emergent coparenting alliance completed in 113 homes, we charted infants' eye gaze patterns during two different mother-father-infant assessment paradigms. Triangular capacities (operationalized as the frequency of rapid multishift gaze transitions between parents during interactions) were stable across interaction context. Infants exhibiting more advanced triangular capacities belonged to families showing evidence of better coparental adjustment. Theoretical and practice implications of these findings are discussed.


Los niños parecen ser partipantes activos en secuencias de interacción complejas con sus padres desde mucho antes de lo que se había teorizado hasta el momento. En este informe documentamos la capacidad de los niños de 3 meses de compartir atención con dos personas (padre y madre) simultáneamente, y establecemos relaciones entre esta capacidad y las dinámicas familiares tempranas a nivel de grupo. Durante las evaluaciones globales realizadas en 113 hogares sobre la alianza de coparentalidad emergente en la familia, examinamos con atención los patrones de fijación de la mirada del niño durante dos paradigmas de evaluación madre-padre-niño distintos. Las capacidades triangulares (operacionalizadas como la frecuencia de transiciones rápidas de mirada con cambio múltiple entre padre y madre durante las interacciones) fueron estables en el contexto de la interacción. Los niños que demostraron mayores capacidades triangulares pertenecían a familias que evidenciaban muestras de mejor ajuste coparental. Se discuten las implicaciones teóricas y prácticas de estos resultados.
Palabras clave: coparentalidad, niños, relaciones triangulares