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Thu November 17, 2011
Dr. Daniel Messinger, University of Miami - Parental Interactions and Child Development
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Daniel Messinger of the University of Miami decodes the common features of interactions between an infant and parent.
Daniel Messinger is a professor of psychology, pediatrics, and electrical & computer engineering at the University of Miami. His research uses computerized measurement techniques to study the emotional development of infants through interactions with their caregivers. He has contributed numerous articles and chapters for publication and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utah.
Dr. Daniel Messinger - Parental Interactions and Child Development
I study heart-to-heart interactions between infants and their parents by watching them play. Of course the infants can't speak, but what we do see is infants learning the rules of interaction. In some ways, infants and parents could not be more different. Parents are a source of expressive energy, as they ooh and ah, open their mouths and raise their eyebrows. Infants gaze at their parents and then gaze away. Infants are sometimes more interested in the parents for a period of time and sometimes more interested in whatever else is going on around them.
It turns out that parents, at this point, are more responsive to their infants than infants are to parents. In the first six months, infants and parents begin to take turns smiling at one another. Infants learn to be responsive to their parents by playing with them. In those early months, when infants gaze at their smiling mothers, their smiles are more likely to involve eye scrunching and mouth opening. Infants become more joyful with their parents at the same time as they become better at gazing away during a smile to regulate their own emotions. Infants use eye scrunching and mouth opening as all-purpose expression intensifiers. They use them to make smiles more positive but they also use them to make their cry-face expressions more negative.
We are now using computer vision and pattern recognition to make measurements of these expressions. These tools let us see development occurring before our eyes. When a parent is responsive and warm, infants learn that they influence others; and they have positive experiences of doing what is expected of them. They become more trusting of others and more likely to internalize rules of right and wrong.