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Development Of Behavioral Controls

mother infant environment self child maternal activities baby anxiety growing

The human infant, like many complex higher organisms, is born abjectly dependent on his environment. He is not ambulatory, cannot therefore forage for food, seek shelter from environmental temperature changes, nor contact the distant external world in order to satisfy his simple physiologic demands. He is also relatively selective in his dietary needs, and thus represents the organism par excellence for analysis of dependency reactions. The modes by which the infant communicates with the mother include two categories of signals: a negative set which includes crying, fretting, motor uneasiness, apathy, refusal, and other types of avoidance behavior; and a positive set represented by quiescence, motor relaxation, cooing, smiling, sustained self activity, and, in general, approach behavior. The characteristics of the mother's individual responses to such signals, her skills in determining whether or not they reflect discomfort, hunger, pain, injury, or pique, and the differential aspects of the responses she gives are measuring rods of her own investment in the maternal role and her conviction about its value.

The modalities through which the mothering one contacts, or communicates with, her infant include the auditory, visual, vestibular, tactual, gustatory, olfactory, and perhaps others. Some investigators have reduced the substrate of differential response in the mother to a general function called intuition or empathic contagion. Such a conception may have poetic or literary merit but certainly has no place in scientific description. If one restricts the analysis of communication to identifiable behavior, it becomes obvious that the mother communicates through the tonal qualities, the rhythm and modulation of her voice; through the gentleness, harshness, smoothness, integration, or fragmentary characteristics of her tactile contacts with the infant; through her behaviors providing insulation from major external temperature changes; and through her general postural sets. The sets mentioned are revealed through the tonic and contractile activities of muscles she uses not only for the direct support and transportation of the infant but also for his cradling in feeding, bathing, cuddling, and so forth. In this regard, it is important to consider the complex shaping provided the mother by the baby's own behaviors, the latter considered as a highly specific environment. How great an impact the surface textures of her body, hair, or garments may have on the infant is suggested by the studies of clinging contact and contact comfort analyzed under relatively controlled conditions by Harlow and his associates in the infant primate.

A special instance should serve to illustrate how the mother may communicate her inner states to the infant. Let us take the instance of the mother who is overconcerned and indecisive about her role, with her conflicts derived perhaps in part from important reservations toward accepting the infant under given social conditions. The mother's anxiety has distinctive effects on her and betrays itself in certain identifiable ways. There is, first of all, an alteration in vocal behavior related to the level of maternal anxiety. Studies such as those of Mahl at Yale have indicated a number of alterations in vocal behavior which correlate at a highly significant level with the quantified, clinical rating of anxiety level in the same subject. These include alterations in modulation and frequency, in overtones, and in the smoothness or interrupted quality of vocal rhythms proportionate to the degree of anxiety. Anxiety also is correlated, though not so directly and consistently, with skeletal-muscle tone. The greater the anxiety, the greater the tonic contractile state of posterior cervical muscles and the more hyperactive the stretch reflexes. With increased activity, the range and amplitude of elicited skeletal-motor reflex responses are increased. There also is a greater fragmentation of movements involved in complex activities. One such activity would be grasping, picking up, balancing, and, ultimately, cradling the infant while the mother draws up from the stooped to the erect position. An extremely anxious mother who lifts, holds, or walks an infant communicates not only through tactile and pressure receptors but also through important vestibular modalities operative in the infant. The general message communicated would be that the supporting environment provided by the mother either is a stable and comfortably cushioned one or, on the other hand, a threatening and dangerous one where support can be lost or erratically introduced at any moment. Specific mechanisms therefore do exist within recognized perceptual modalities by which the inner state of the mother can communicate directly and on a nonverbal level with the infant. There is limited evidence that such modes of communication may be of importance in setting the conditions for predominantly tranquil behavior in the healthy growing infant. The mechanisms by which such early experiences might provide the physical substrate for chronic and intense anxiety in the later life of the growing child are not, of course, understood as yet.

Of particular importance is the sensitivity of the mother to the signals provided by the infant. The characteristics of her personal behavior in responding to calls for attention, comfort, feeding, cleansing, warming, or cooling will reflect the degree of her investment in the nurturant role. Her ability to recognize and correct states of deprivation in the infant organism in the consistent context of differential need in the infant sets the stage for a reinforcement history which is approximate but not identical to continuous reinforcement. On the other hand, a fixed-interval schedule of reinforcement, every three or four hours or longer, depending on age, which was quite popular 30 or 40 years ago, tends to provide environmental conditions of nurturant reinforcement dictated largely by the clock or by the social needs of the mother rather than by those of the infant. A complex fixed-ratio schedule intermingled with one generated to terminate an aversive behavior, such as crying or irritant motor restlessness, is associated with more strongly and persistently maintained performances which also are resistant to extinction (see Part III). For the older child, such strongly and persistently maintained performances may include continuous thumb, finger, or hand sucking, constant snacking, or even persistent irritant chattering. It is to be anticipated that weaning under the second schedule would be more difficult and conflicting than under the sensitive response-to-need feeding schedule. Likewise, the persistence of substitutive sucking and other oral activities, as already mentioned, might be much more resistant to extinction or come under the control of many more secondary or conditioned environmental reinforcers in later life than would be true on nurturant schedules specifically maintained by the infant's expressed needs.

The recent studies of maternal behavior conducted and recorded by Sears are notable here as an alternative formulation. He and his associates have defined the maternally warm individual as one who shows much affectionate interaction with the baby, with high demonstrativeness, has ample time for playful interaction, and responds to the child's dependency, exhibiting predominant reasoning and praise for performance as opposed to punishment as the method of training. The training technics mentioned are, of course, relevant to behaviors ordinarily anticipated in the latter months of the first year of life and thereafter. Sears and his associates suggest as polar opposites of these characteristics a constellation constituting maternal coldness. Maternal coldness is associated in their studies with feeding problems, persistent bedwetting, and high aggressiveness. These workers conclude that maternal coldness provides an important background circumstance or environmental factor favorable to the development of emotional upsets during toilet training and that it interferes ultimately with the development of indwelling self-controls. They propose that children of warm mothers mature more rapidly in social behavior.

Sears and his associates have also made correlations between social factors and the mother's acceptance of her role. Mothers who had babies more closely spaced were less happy about being pregnant again than were those whose babies came at a more leisurely pace. They reported also a correspondence between positive job acceptance prior to pregnancy and the acceptant and warm maternal behavior. In the main, they correlated enthusiasm, warmth, and self-esteem in the mother with her high evaluation of her husband and her general satisfaction with current family and life situations. They found a suggestive relationship between the age of the mother and the warmth of her affectional expression in that older mothers tended to be a little stronger in this regard than younger mothers.

These data of Sears are derived from reconstructive inquiry, that is, obtained long "after the fact;" hence, they must be taken with certain reservations. The precise behavioral criteria for warmth or coldness are inferred but not definitively spelled out by Sears nor by other students of child development who use such terms widely and easily. Though such conclusions appear entirely consistent with "what every woman knows," they are difficult to translate into meaningful behavioral terms. It is apparent that more specific information about meaningful behavioral sequences between mother and child in developmental context must be obtained, preferably within a sound and scientific context, before any definitive meaning can be attributed to such general terms as warmth or coldness. Certain limited progress has been made in defining such meaningful criteria for pathologic variants, such as anxiety or depression, and the time is surely ripe for more critical studies of normal behavioral interactions.

casions for the development of effective self-control. The activities most immediately concerned include eating behavior, sleeping, cruising, exploration, and excretory behavior. This section will be addressed primarily to the eminently personal, private attitudinal sets of the maternal figure as they create the training environment. In general, two variants of maternal attitudes toward such physiologic activities in the growing infant and young child can be described. One which is more or less characteristic of the secure, acceptant, and self-respecting mother, whom we will label type 1, may be paraphrased as follows with respect to the infant: You are my baby, but you are destined to become an independent and ultimately mature free agent with an intrinsic and independent value of your own. It is my particular responsibility to provide you with an environment responsive to your important needs, consistently reinforcing your physiologic demands and recognizing your personal need to acquire increasing independence from me as well as self-control over your behavior. You exist within a real social environment which will impose certain restrictions on your activities, and it is my business to interpret these restrictions to you and to create a setting which will make the transition from the protective environment that I provide to the outside world as comfortable and uncomplicated as is possible.

The second attitude is characteristic of the insecure and non-acceptant mother, type 2, who has failed to mature and to achieve an independently gratifying adult relationship with significant figures of her own age as, for example, her husband. She might speak as follows: You are my baby, my property, you belong to me, and your prime purpose in existing is to satisfy and gratify my needs. As long as you interfere minimally with my own personal comfort and comply with my requests, which are largely to be based on maximum tranquility in my own environment and least on your own personal needs and demands, you will enjoy my approval. When you overstep these limits, you can expect little support and, on the contrary, only disapproval and rejection from me. This is the bargain, and your value, security, and ultimate gratification will depend upon your recognition and conformity to the conditions I have set.

It is obvious that the mothering figure of type 1, alert to the reasonable demands of her infant, will not only provide a maximally and optimally reinforcing environment but also permit occasions for the independent and undisturbed exploration of the safe environment required by every normal growing infant. She will attend when attendant behavior is called for. She will leave the baby to his own devices when this is indicated. She will be cautious as well as reluctant in demanding that the baby sleep, eat, explore, and excrete on a schedule which satisfies her demands and needs. The type 2 mother will of necessity be relatively indifferent to or insensitive to the expressions and indicators of need in her infant. When her child is approximately eight months of age or older and has begun to assume the erect position and, shortly thereafter, to cruise curiously in the immediate environment, she will set standards of behavior which assure her own peace and comfort. She will continue to insist in behavioral terms that "You eat for me; you sleep for me; you explore your environment within the limits set by me; and, finally, you excrete for me." It is apparent that a growing child who is consistently exposed to this environment must become progressively alienated from his own continuing realistic biologic needs and urges. He also must become the easy prey of superstitious and nonbiologic reinforcement schedules, since these consistently have so little to do with his own inner states or expressions of need. The cumulative impact of the environment provided by the type 2 mother can thus scarcely be optimally reinforcing or even sensitively shaping of the behavior of the infant in the natural biologic sense. There will be a strong tendency for schedules based largely on the avoidance of aversive environmental events, as parental carping, criticism, or punishment, to predominate (For an extensive review of the behavioral effects of such schedules, see Chapters 15 and 16).

It is appropriate here to re-emphasize that such schedules tend to initiate and intensify ritualistic avoidance activities which are primarily designed to postpone punishment. Such rituals are the basic ingredient of neurotic automatisms stressed, for example, by Kubie. They are characteristic of the behaviors of the constricted personality who requires the professional attention of the psychiatrist. There is little sound basis for a mother's proposing that a baby sleep, eat, or excrete for her in that all of these activities are biologically effective in satisfying states of deprivation or discomfort in the baby himself and not in the mothering one. Any sustained intrusion on such biologically important systems is destructive of the development of solid and internalized behavioral controls since the truly effective behavioral controls are self originating. The mother's capacity for developing and maintaining an appropriately supportive reinforcing and nurturant climate for the infant is intimately interwoven with her own sense of worth and self-respect. This is a product not only of her own life experiences but also of her relationship with her husband and of the role she has assumed as mother of his child.

To complete the elementary formulation about developing self-controls, reference must be made to the ability of the effective mother to let her infant or young child remain undisturbed under certain circumstances and, as it were, free for his own devices. Sears has emphasized the importance of this factor in the early development of indwelling self-control. His formulation runs somewhat as follows: The development of an effective set of performances characteristic of self-control involves, first, an adequate, positively reinforcing history of contacts with a type 1 mother during the earlier phases of infancy, and secondly, experiences of isolation or freedom from the mother to permit the fantasy construction and incorporation within the child of this mother image. What she represents must inevitably include her own value systems, her ethical system, and, in the final analysis, the active behavioral indicators of her own self-controls. These will later be incorporated as parts of the self-control repertoire of the growing child, provided the first two phases are adequate and appropriate. The implication of this formulation is that the growing child accepts the incorporated values of the mother, who consistently respects his own independent needs and biologic demands and cautiously avoids violating these wherever consistently possible. The contrasting resultants provided by the behaviors of the type 2 mother are fury, resentment, and rejection in the infant and the substitution of approval-seeking (punishment-avoiding) behaviors for positively-maintained repertoires of self-control.

7 Late Infancy and Early Childhood:

Environmental Effects On The DevelopingInner Life [next] [back] Brain Organization - Neural Bases Of Behavior

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