The functional architecture of mother-infant communication, and the development of infant social expressiveness in the first two months

By two-three months, infants show active social expressions during face-to-face interactions. These interactions are important, as they provide the foundation for later emotional regulation and cognition, but little is known about how infant social expressiveness develops. We considered two different accounts. One emphasizes the contingency of parental responsiveness, regardless of its form; the other, the functional architecture account, emphasizes the preparedness of both infants and parents to respond in specific ways to particular forms of behaviour in their partner. We videotaped mother-infant interactions from one to nine weeks, and analysed them with a micro-analytic coding scheme. Infant social expressiveness increased through the nine-week period, particularly after 3 weeks. This development was unrelated to the extent of maternal contingent responsiveness, even to infant social expressions. By contrast, specific forms of response that mothers used preferentially for infant social expressions-mirroring, marking with a smile- predicted the increase in these infant behaviours over time. These results support a functional architecture account of the perceptual and behavioural predispositions of infants and parents that allow young infants to capitalize on relatively limited exposure to specific parental behaviours, in order to develop important social capacities.