Chapter 6


Social and Personality Development in Infancy



Chapter Outline



I.        Forming the Roots of Sociability

A.     Emotions in Infancy:  Do Infants Experience Emotional Highs and Lows?

1.      Across every culture, infants show similar facial expressions relating to basic emotions.

a)      Nonverbal encoding, the nonverbal expression of emotions is consistent across the life span.

b)      DIFFERENTIAL EMOTIONS THEORY suggests that emotional expressions not only reflect emotional experiences but also help in the regulation of emotion itself.

2.      Stranger Anxiety and Separation Anxiety

a)      STRANGER ANXIETY is the caution and wariness displayed by infants when encountering an unfamiliar person.

(1)   Appears in the second half of the first year.

(2)   The same cognitive advances that allow infants to respond so positively to those with whom they are familiar also mean they are able to recognize people who are unfamiliar.

(3)   Infants with more experience with strangers tend to show less anxiety.

(4)   Infants tend to show less anxiety with female strangers and other children than males.

b)      SEPARATION ANXIETY is the distress displayed by infants when a customary care provider departs.

(1)   Usually begins about 7 or 8 months and peaks at 14 months.

(2)   Largely attributable to the same cognitive skills as stranger anxiety.

c)      By 6-9 weeks babies exhibit the SOCIAL SMILE, smiling in reference to other individuals.

d)     Infants are able to discriminate facial and vocal expressions of emotion early in infancy.

B.     SOCIAL REFERENCING is the intentional search for information to help explain the meaning of uncertain circumstances and events.

1.      First occurs in infants at about 8-9 months.

2.      Infants make particular use of facial expressions in their social referencing.

3.      Social referencing is most likely to occur in uncertain and ambiguous situations.

C.     The Development of Self:  Do Infants Know Who They Are?

1.      The roots of SELF-AWARENESS, knowledge of self, begin to grow around 12 months.

a)      Self-awareness is assessed by the mirror-and-rouge task.

b)      Most infants touch their nose to attempt to wipe off the rouge at 17 - 24 months.

c)      Crying, when presented with complicated tasks, also implies consciousness that infants lack capability to carry out tasks.

D.     Theory of Mind:  Infants’ Perspectives on the Mental Lives of Others – and Themselves

1.      Infants have a THEORY OF MIND, knowledge and beliefs about the mental world, at a fairly early age.

a)      Infants see others as compliant agents, beings similar to themselves who behave under their own power and respond to the infant's requests.

b)      Children's capacity to understand intentionality and causality grow during infancy.

c)      By age two, infants demonstrate EMPATHY, an emotional response that corresponds to the feelings of another person.

d)      By age two, children can "pretend."

II.     Forging Relationships

A.     The most important form of social development that occurs during infancy is ATTACHMENT, the positive emotional bond that develops between a child and a particular individual.

1.      Lorenz studied imprinting in animals, the rapid, innate learning that takes place during a critical period and involves attachment to the first moving object observed.

2.      Freud suggested that attachment grew out of a mother's ability to satisfy a child's oral needs.

3.      Harlow showed, with monkeys, that food alone is insufficient to bring about attachment – what he called contact comfort.

4.      The earliest work on humans was carried out by John Bowlby, who suggested that attachment had a biological basis based on infant's needs for safety and security.

a)      Since safety and security is provided by the mother, this attachment is different than others.

b)      Having a strong, firm attachment provides a home base from which the child can gain independence.

5.      Based on Bowlby's work, Mary Ainsworth developed the AINSWORTH STRANGE SITUATION, a sequence of 8 staged episodes that illustrate the strength of attachment between a child and (typically) his or her mother.

a)      Two-thirds of one-year-olds have the SECURE ATTACHMENT PATTERN, a style of attachment in which children use mother as a home base and are at ease as long as she is present; when she leaves, they become upset and go to her as soon as she returns.

b)      20 percent have the AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT PATTERN, a style of attachment in which children do not seek proximity to the mother; after the mother has left, they seem to avoid her when she returns as if they are angered by her behavior.

c)      About 12 percent have the AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT PATTERN, a style of attachment in which children display a combination of positive and negative reactions to their mothers; they show great distress when the mother leaves, but upon her return they may simultaneously seek close contact but also hit and kick her.

d)      A more recent expansion of Ainsworths work suggests a fourth category:  DISORGANIZED-DISORIENTED ATTACHMENT PATTERN, a style of attachment in which children show inconsistent, often contradictory behavior, such as approaching the mother when she returns but not looking at her; they may be the least securely attached children of all.

e)      Infant attachment may have significant consequences for relationships at later stages in life.

f)       Not all children who are not securely attached as infants experience difficulties later in life; some research suggests that those who had avoidant and ambivalent attachment do quite well later in life.

6.      Producing Attachment:  The Roles of the Mother and Father

a)      Mothers are most often the attachment figure.

(1)   They are sensitive to their infant's needs.

(2)   They are aware of the infant's moods.

(3)   They provide appropriate responses.

(4)   Mothers whose communication involves interactional synchrony, in which caregivers respond to infants appropriately and both caregiver and child match emotional states, are more likely to produce secure attachment.

(5)   There is substantial stability in attachment patterns from one generation to another.

b)      Changing societal norms and current research show that some infants form strong initial attachment to their fathers and with multiple individuals simultaneously.

c)      There are differences in attachment to mothers and fathers.

(1)   When stressed, infants tend to prefer their mothers.

(2)   Almost all fathers do contribute to child care.

(3)   Fathers engage in more rough-and-tumble play; mothers spend more time feeding and nurturing.

B.     Developmental Diversity:  Does Attachment Differ Across Cultures?

1.      Cross-cultural studies confirm that there are differences in the proportions of infants who fall into the various attachment categories, and that subcultural differences also exist.

2.      Recent approaches view attachment as not entirely biologically determined, but susceptible to cultural norms and expectations.

3.      Secure attachment may be seen earlier in cultures that promote independence, and may be delayed in societies in which independence is less important.

C.     Infant Interactions:  Developing a Working Relationship

1.      The development of relationships occurs according to the MUTUAL REGULATION MODEL, which states that infants and parents learn to communicate emotional states to one another and to respond accordingly.

2.      Attachment is further increased by the process of RECIPROCAL SOCIALIZATION, by which infant's behaviors invite further responses from parents and other caregivers.

D.     Infants’ Sociability with Their Peers:  Infant-Infant Interaction

1.      Infants react positively to the presence of other infants.

a)      They laugh, smile, and vocalize.

b)      They show more interest in infants than inanimate objects.

2.      By 1 year they show stronger preferences for familiar people than for strangers.

3.      14-month-olds imitate each other.

4.      Infants can learn new behaviors, skills, and abilities from exposure to other children.

III.   Differences among Infants

A.     The origins of PERSONALITY, the sum total of the enduring characteristics that differentiate one individual from another, begin in infancy.

B.     Erik Erikson's THEORY OF PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT considers how individuals come to understand themselves and the meaning of others — and their own — behavior.

1.      Infancy marks the time of the TRUST-VERSUS-MISTRUST STAGE (birth to 18 months) during which infants develop a sense of trust or mistrust, largely depending on how well their needs are met by their caretakers.

2.      From around 18 months to 3 years, infants enter the AUTONOMY-VERSUS-SHAME-AND-DOUBT STAGE during which, according to Erikson, toddlers develop either independence and autonomy if they are allowed the freedom to explore or shame and doubt if they are restricted and overprotected.

3.      Erikson argues that personality is largely shaped by infant's experiences.

C.     TEMPERAMENT is the patterns of arousal and emotionality that are consistent and enduring characteristics of an individual.

1.      Temperament refers to how children behave.

2.      Temperamental differences among infants appear from the time of birth.

3.      Temperament shows stability from infancy through adolescence.

4.      There are several dimensions to temperament.

a)      Activity level is the degree of overall movement.

b)      Irritability reflects the fact that some infants are easygoing while others are easily disturbed.

5.      Alexander Thomas, and Stella Chess carried out a large-scale study known as the New York Longitudinal Study (1984) where they describe three profiles of temperament.

a)      EASY BABIES have a positive disposition; their body functions operate regularly and they are adaptable.

(1)   40 percent of infants

b)      DIFFICULT BABIES have negative moods and are slow to adapt to new situations; when confronted with a new situation, they tend to withdraw.

(1)   10 percent of infants

c)      SLOW-TO-WARM-UP BABIES are inactive, showing relatively calm reactions to their environment; their moods are generally negative, and they withdraw from new situations, adapting slowly.

(1)   15 percent of infants.

(2)   The remaining 36 percent cannot be consistently categorized.

d)      No temperament is inherently good or bad.

(1)   Long-term adjustment depends on the GOODNESS OF FIT, the notions that development is dependent on the degree of match between childrens temperament and the nature and demands of the environment in which they are being raised.

(2)   A key determinant is the way parents react to the infant's behavior.

(3)   Culture also has a major influence on the consequences of a particular temperament.

(4)   Buss and Plomin argue that temperament represents inherited traits that make up the core of personality.

D.     An infant's GENDER, the sense of being male or female, has effects throughout life.

1.      Fathers interact more with sons than daughters; mothers more with daughters.

2.      Infants wear different clothes and are given different toys based on gender.

3.      Infants' behavior is interpreted differently depending on gender.

4.      Male infants are more active and fussier than females.

5.      By age one, infants are able to distinguish between males and females.

6.      Differences within gender are greater than those between genders.

7.      Gender differences become increasingly influenced by gender roles in society.

E.      Family Life in the 21st Century

1.      27 percent of all families with children are headed by a single parent.

2.      65 percent of African American children and 37 percent Hispanic children live in single-parent homes.

3.      The average size of families is shrinking from 2.8 to 2.6 persons per household.

4.      25 percent of births are to unwed mothers.

5.      More than 5 million children under the age of 3 are cared for by other adults while their parents work, and more than half of mothers with infants work outside the home.

6.      One in six children live in poverty.


Key Terms and Concepts



Differential emotions theory

Stranger anxiety

Separation anxiety

Social smile

Social referencing


Theory of mind



Ainsworth Strange Situation

Secure attachment pattern

Avoidant attachment pattern

Ambivalent attachment pattern

Disorganized-disoriented attachment pattern

Mutual regulation model

Reciprocal socialization


Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development

Trust-versus-mistrust stage

Autonomy-versus-shame-and-doubt stage


Easy babies

Difficult babies

Slow-to-warm babies