Under the flap “Infant research”, we saw Professor Joe Campos’ “visual cliff experiment“.
It showed that if the mother had a scared look on her face, this had a distinctly differential effect on the baby compared with if she looked happy and encouraging. In the first case, the baby did not dare to crawl on the glass pane. If, on the other hand, the mother looked encouraging, the baby became secure and crawled out on the glass pane. The experiment demonstrated how sensitive the baby is to the mother’s emotional signals, and how the mental balance of the parent may affect the baby’s experience of his/her environment.
Here is another example from University of Washington. We see clearly how the child reacts with apprehension and caution when noting an angry comment from an adult person who just entered the room
We assume that two images are created in the baby’s internal world: “Mom supports me. I am a big and strong baby!” The counterpart runs: “Mom looks scared. Life seems a scary business.” We analysts assume, since Freud and onwards, that the human being seeks to obtain pleasure and avoid unpleasure. The analyst Melanie Klein suggested that when the baby experiences “Mom supports me”, s/he creates an internal image of the Good Mother. In contrary situations, s/he will create images of the Bad Mother. Do you think this sounds like a black-and-white description? Certainly, because that is how things may seem in the baby’s internal world!
To give yourself more food for thought, have a look at this video from Paul Bloom’s research group at Yale University. It indicates that babies who take part in various experiments with dolls enacting little scenes, can differentiate between “the good guy” and “the mean guy”. In addition,, they show a clear preference for one of them; well, who do you guess?
What happens to the child’s development if negative experiences are accumulated from the interaction with the parent(s)? Let us first look at another experiment. Below, you will see a movie about the still face experiment, which Professor Ed Tronick from Harvard University invented in 1975. Since then, it has been repeated many times by researchers across the world. The baby is alone with his Mummy. After a while she is instructed to keep her face completely still. You can see yourself how the baby is quickly changing when the normal communication is broken. It does not even take a second before the baby looks unhappy or distressed.
Now, we are entering the territory of emotional problems between mothers and babies. Tronick is of the opinion that the Still-Face experiment can be viewed as an artificially produced mini-depression within the mother. He, as well as researchers over the world, has therefore continued to investigate how babies react when the mother is depressed.