6 minute read

Cultural And Cross-cultural Studies

Inner Life

Attempts to correlate specific developmental processes and behavioral performances with varying feeding practices as represented in different societies have revealed no convincing relationship. The Hopi Indians wean children quite late, as do the Balinese. Both groups feed their children in the context of expressed physiologic need. The personalities of children studied thus far do not appear to confirm any clear dependency between personality structure and such cultural practices. The maternal attitudes, as well as nurturing activities, of 379 mothers from two suburban communities of a large New England metropolitan area were analyzed and reported by Sears and his associates. Thirty-nine per cent of these mothers indicated that they had breast fed their children, the vast majority for less than nine months. Sixty per cent reported artificial feeding from birth. One per cent did not indicate their practice. Possible correlations be tween method of feeding and certain behavioral performances and stable traits of the children were then appraised at the time the children themselves were in kindergarten. Three different groups were studied: one included 226 children who were not breast fed; another, 93 children breast fed for three months or less; and 56 children breast fed for three months or more. In these three groups, no significant differences were observed in the incidence of aggressive activities at home, development of "high conscience," in amount of clinging, dependent behavior, in incidence of moderate to severe eating problems, or in emotional responses to toilet training as well as bedwetting. All children were studied at about five years of age.

Sears and his associates also analyzed factors influencing self-demand as opposed to rigid-schedule feeding, and reported that lack of maternal warmth was more commonly associated with the rigid schedule. Also they reported that a positive correlation existed between the use of such scheduling and anxious concern over childrearing practices. With regard to weaning, an experience clearly relevant to feeding practices during the first nine to twelve months of life, these workers concluded that longer practice at sucking, more severe methods of forcing the transition to the cup, and, in addition, attitudes of indecisiveness during the process of weaning, all lead to frustration. Such attitudes might well be expected to correlate with intermittent schedules of reinforcement of sucking or, in fact, with aversive programs. The measure of frustration used by Sears was the estimated amount of the child's emotional upset at weaning. Sears and his associates, however, stress the impressive individual differences among children in their sensitivity to such experiences. Frustration at weaning is, in fact, a form of extinction which has become highly stimulus controlled. It would be expected that once extinction has occurred, there would be no stress over and beyond the emission of the extinction curve itself. Once the behavior was fully extinguished, presenting relevant stimuli would simply be the occasion on which the child would move to other activities. If one were to specify an intraorganismic factor relevant to such experiences, it would be pertinent to refer again to the studies of Lustman on skin temperature changes in the neonate following touch or airblast stimulation of the mouth. It is now generally held that over-all categorical feeding practices (artificial or breast) may not be the important factor, but rather, the specific individual practices and the emotional and attitudinal sets which provide the continuing substrates for these practices.

The Importance Of Specific Culturaland Other Physical Patterns

It is a relatively common practice of the Hopi Indians, for example, to bind the infant to a cradle board for the earliest months of infancy. A somewhat similar practice obtains in a number of Eastern European countries, specifically areas of the Soviet Union, where swaddling of infants is routine. Such practices virtually prevent all movements during large parts of the day. It is interesting to note that in spite of such practices, ambulatory skills apparently are not affected as demonstrated by the normal walking behavior of the Hopi child at 18 months and by the undoubted emergence of normal motor patterns in the Eastern Europeans, as evidenced, for example, by outstanding performances in Olympic Games.

Studies of Margaret Mead on Balinese infants are of particular interest. She has catalogued basic similarities in the development of these infants as compared with a group of infants maturing in a typical middle-class New Haven environment. The only conspicuous differences occurred in the sequences from creeping to walking. The American sequence includes frogging, creeping on all fours, subsequent pulling up to the standing and walking position, with squatting appearing after standing. In the Balinese infant, Mead and her associates observed much less creeping. This is considered animal-like and undignified, and is suppressed with aversive schedules. The Balinese infant spends much less time in frogging, creeping, crawling, and sitting for the simple reason that the infant in that culture is carried much of the time. Those infants progress from sitting to squatting to standing position. Of even more interest are her studies of cultural effects on postural sets. She stresses the remarkable flexibility of the Balinese child in his postural readjustments and, especially, the independence of hand and finger movements, the apparent dissociation of one type from another and, finally, the focus on the ulnar side of the hand as contrasted with the typical American focus on the radial prehensile grasping side, the index finger and thumb. Because the Balinese infant is carried much of the time by his mother with relatively little manipulative support from her, there is continuous reflex training of the infant in flexible partial adjustments to peripheral movement stimuli. Striking postural dependence on living, supporting, moving forms appears to result. American infants are little, if at all, exposed to such experiences. Balinese children were observed to assume postures of highly integrated and tense motor attention at one moment and, immediately thereafter, to assume a completely relaxed and flaccid posture. Balinese mothers maintain what Dr. Mead describes as relaxed inattention while carrying their infants. It is felt that this mode of behavior in the mother provides complex reflex training which is later integrated into the flexibility of motor performance possible to the Balinese. Whether such early handling and reflex experiences contribute notably to the dissociated postures and movements in the classic Balinese dance is subject for interesting speculation.

One additional theoretical position, that of the Gesell group of developmental psychologists, should be mentioned. They hold that, first, environmental factors support, inflect, and specify, but do not engender the basic forms and sequences of developmental programs in the infant since these are, according to them, largely of reflex stimulus-response type. Secondly, the order and sequence of emerging behavioral patterns seem to be set by intrinsic genetic factors which are not readily transcended by training. Thus, the Gesell group believes that all learning during the early period of development under discussion involves, primarily, growth itself and that what we call learning in the infant is actually the inexorable manifestation of growth and maturation on a neurobiologic level with relatively little impact from cultural processes. By contrast, the data cited indicate that certain consistent and sustained variations are possible, dependent not only on individual but also on specific cultural and intimate environmental influences. Moreover, clinical experience and our own sensitive observations confirm that a striking spectrum of idiosyncratic normal, as well as pathologic, behavioral performances is unquestionably shaped by systematic environmental influences.


Additional topics

Human Behavior