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The "Still-Face" Experiment
March 15, 2010 9:48 PM   Subscribe

The "Still Face" Paradigm (YT video) designed by Dr. Edward Tronick of Harvard and Childrens Hospital’s Child Development Unit, is an experiment which shows us how a 1-year old child will react to a suddenly unresponsive parent. It allows us to understand how a caregiver's interactions and emotional state can influence many aspects of an infant's social and emotional development.

From Zero to Three's Helping Babies From the Bench: Using the Science of Early Childhood Development in Court. They have a Parenting Resources page.
posted by zarq (22 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I found this video a bit difficult to watch. YMMV.
posted by zarq at 9:49 PM on March 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


So did I, actually; at least the bad part only lasted a little while.

Really interesting, though.
posted by sentient at 9:54 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kind of wonder how long it will be before someone warps this principle to blame autism (its major symptoms being socially oriented) on "neglectful", "cold" parents (see also: schizophrenogenic mother).
posted by so_gracefully at 10:52 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


:-~

:-◁

,:-*

posted by Rhaomi at 10:52 PM on March 15, 2010


I kind of wonder how long it will be before someone warps this principle to blame autism...on "neglectful", "cold" parents

Refrigerator mothers.
posted by sallybrown at 10:55 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


> I kind of wonder how long it will be before someone warps this principle to blame autism (its major symptoms being socially oriented) on "neglectful", "cold" parents

My thought was Reactive Attachment Disorder.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:53 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I prefer his earlier work as half of TechnoTronick.
posted by Eideteker at 1:10 AM on March 16, 2010


Interesting. I saw this baby using sign language to communicate before she learned to talk.
posted by delmoi at 1:21 AM on March 16, 2010


I must say, I don't like the way people are interpreting this video. I understand it can be somewhat distressing to watch, but projecting an emotional narrative onto the child is not science. The doctor was putting words in the baby's mouth, like 'Hey? Wha's going on here?' The second article says the baby, at the end when the mother is responding again, "knows everything is ok." But this is a science experiment, not "Look Who's Talking".

I am no expert, but I am not sure what we are supposed to learn from this vuideo beyond "if you stare at a baby it is freaked out" - which I didn't realise we didn't know already. I could tell you this of my cat.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 2:28 AM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


marmaduke_yaverland: You can't tell the difference between the babies behavior before and after? The point was: people didn't know that babies had any kind of 'social cognition' like this in the decades before these experiments. Also, looking at babies faces can be scientific if you can show that a certain stimulus results in a certain expression.
posted by delmoi at 2:41 AM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


sallybrown, but things like the refrigerator mother/schizophrenogenic mother were not based on much besides handfuls of case studies by individual psychiatrists at the time. This looks like it could be much more potent ammunition because there's some actual research going on, which makes it more difficult to dismiss and discredit, which is the part that leads me to wonder who will co-opt it for their own purposes totally inappropriately.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:35 AM on March 16, 2010


Delmoi,my kids were taught (and used) 4 or 5 signs to communicate a handful of basic needs before they could talk. There are a number of videos available for parents which explain the teaching process.

It was pretty cool, but looking back probably not that urgently needed. At least not for my kids. If you're around your own child(ren) for any length of time, you tend to learn how to interpret their cries/emotional states pretty quickly. And they learn how to convey their needs and desires nonverbally, too. A healthy kid's state is obviously easier to figure out than a sick one. Signing takes away the guesswork, though, which can keep you sane. ;)

Ultimately, they have nine or ten basic modes, some of which bear a suspicious resemblance to Disney Dwarves: Sleepy, Sneezy, Grouchy, Happy, Hungry, Cuddle Me, Swing Me, Change Me, "I Want Mommy" etc., etc. :)
posted by zarq at 5:06 AM on March 16, 2010


My kid had a favorite mode: Do My Bidding or I Will Cry, I Will Not Tell You What My Bidding Is.

(I kid, just a bit).
posted by oddman at 5:31 AM on March 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


There's a pretty big difference between underresponsive and unresponsive. The woman in the video was plain stonewalling the child. You'll get the same unhappy result if you play the "ignoring" game, ("Did you hear something? Me, either.")
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:39 AM on March 16, 2010


So that's why I make babies cry.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:40 AM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting. My wife and son actually participated last year in a study very similar to what's shown here, but testing much younger (I think he was around six months or so? I can't remember exactly) and controlling more specifically for just facial expressions, not body language or other physical interaction. I'm surprised to learn from this video that this kind of study goes back 30-40 years!

In our case, the baby won: he made such a ridiculous expression that my wife was unable to maintain the straight face. I'm still curious whether that meant he was thrown out of the data set or not.

I saw this baby using sign language to communicate before she learned to talk.

Not sure what this has to do with the still face studies, but the sign language thing is really common these days, almost unavoidable in fact.... we weren't planning to do it but ours started picking it up at daycare; I've twice had to look up signs online to figure out what he was saying.
posted by ook at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2010


You don't need research to tell you good mom-baby interactions are important; you need it to tell you in what specific ways they are important. E.g. if the baby is in the NICU, is it more important to talk to them or touch them? If there's no real effect on outcome, should we let moms stay in the NICU all day, what with their dirty fingers and constant requests for juice?

The backstory to this is that research (his) found that mothers of preterm infants, visiting in the NICU, especially when they've been through the mill, are more controlling and less sensitive with their babies than full term baby mommas. For whatever reason.

He found that when moms were more responsive, the preterm babies had outcomes similar to full term babies (at 6 mos); the controlling moms' babies had worse outcomes. The outcomes were both behavioral and physical. All of this was just from interactions in the NICU.

But think about this. Why would preterm babies do as well as full term babies, as a rule? So the controlling mom wasn't so much a negative effect as the responsive mom was a positive effect.

So why? Well, it turns out that the biggest effect is on sleep and eating (i.e. better) and you can guess from there. Fussy babies who don't eat or have fitful sleep have more emotional probs at 6 mos and blah blah blah.

Now look at this video: if you're focused on the reaction of the baby to the mother's blank face, you are missing the significance of this. What you should focus on is your own reaction.

Maybe the baby is angry, or maybe its scared, or maybe its confused, or whatever-- that's secondary. What's going to happen in normal life, however, is that the mom may have a negative overall reaction to the baby's crying, which causes her to be more flat and less responsive... if you substitute "depressed mother" for "still face" you see where they're going with this.

So he's showing you part one of a vicious, life ling cycle, where mom is depressed, baby responds, mom counter responds, and a dyadic system is born that is nearly impossible to break because, and this is the point, the responses are assumed to be independent of one another.

I'll try to dig up the articles and post more completely.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 7:31 AM on March 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


Fascinating stuff, but I'll agree: very hard to watch.

And I'd be upset, too, if my Sigourney Weaver-looking mom was sitting there giving me the stink eye.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:59 AM on March 16, 2010


I'll try to dig up the articles and post more completely.

Please do! I learned a lot from your explanation. :)
posted by zarq at 9:28 AM on March 16, 2010


Ultimately, they have nine or ten basic modes, some of which bear a suspicious resemblance to Disney Dwarves: Sleepy, Sneezy, Grouchy, Happy, Hungry, Cuddle Me, Swing Me, Change Me, "I Want Mommy" etc., etc. :)

Infants/toddlers may have a limited number of responses in their repertoire but this study is about "how a caregiver's interactions and emotional state can influence many aspects of an infant's social and emotional development." [emphasis mine]

The template for interacting with others is downloaded by the infant from their Primary Caregivers (typically the parents, especially the mother). This is discussed in Object Relations Theory.
posted by nickyskye at 7:28 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, oh yes, thank you for the stimulating post!
posted by nickyskye at 7:29 PM on March 18, 2010


Why is the connection with others so critical? by the same scientist, Dr. Edward Tronick.
posted by nickyskye at 10:01 PM on March 18, 2010


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