A mother’s touch or her reaction to her infant’s crying will affect how the way her child will bond or attach to her and the child’s future relationship with others. Making this kind of determination enables authorities to come up with interventions and allow mothers to change their behavior and thus, become closer to their children and contribute to their positive development as adults.
Certainly man cannot live in milk alone,” and so says developmental psychologist Harry Harlow in summing up the findings of his experiments that eventually changed the way people think about how mothers should care for their babies.
Before Harlow made the statement, the generally accepted idea on how to better rear a child came from the suggestions of Sigmund Freud and other behavior psychologists that the closeness between a mother and baby stemmed from her ability to provide for her child in terms of her hunger or thirst.
Harlow’s statement, which was mentioned in the article “Discovering Love,” reverberated and took the premise a step further in the other article “Mother’s Emotional Reactions to Crying Pose Risk for Subsquent Attachment Insecurity.”
For both articles delved on the idea that a mother’s loving touch and caring ways were far more important in ensuring not only the survival of her child but her bond to her as well, a radical departure from the old notion that being her baby’s nursemaid would do the job.
In “Discovering Love,” the article discussed the studies made by Harlow’s work with rhesus monkeys that showed a mother’s close contact with her infant was key in producing a close attachment between them.
Harlow proved his point when he used a “surrogate mother” for the monkeys –he devised a cloth-covered and wire-covered “mother” having the ability to nurse the infant monkeys. He thought of doing this when he saw how infant monkeys would cling to cloth pads placed in their cribs and how upset they would become when these items were taken from them.
His experiments showed that the infant monkeys prefer the cloth mother over the wire mother in various experiments he made. They preferred the cloth mother when they were nursing; when they underwent a scary experiment and when they were exposed to a new situation or stimuli –in this case Harlow placed them in an unfamiliar room with toys and other objects as well when they separated from their mothers for a period of time. In both experiments, the monkeys all reached out to their cloth mothers for safety and protection.
This showed how the monkeys were drawn to the loving touch of their cloth mothers, that indeed some of them end up getting sick compared to the others when they are under the care of a “wire mother.”
The article showed that indeed a mother’s close contact or touch is the driving force for her infant’s attachment to her and affects her child’s later relationship with others.
“As Harlow pointed out, these studies demonstrated the overwhelming importance of contact comfort in the development of close attachment between infant monkeys and their mothers. This factor in bonding appears to be considerably more important than the mother’s ability to provide life-sustaining milk to the infant,” said the article.
More than a mother’s touch, her care and sensitivity in looking after her child is just as important as pointed out this time in the article “Mother’s Emotional Reactions to Crying Pose Risk for Subsequent Attachment Insecurity.”
The article discussed the study that showed how a mother’s anger and anxiety in responding to her infant’s crying were responsible in her child’s later attachment to her. The study looked into the responses made by 119 mothers on three experiments – when they were four weeks away from giving birth and the way they behave their infants when the latter were six months old and 16 months old respectively. But the study was only able to complete the data of 70 mothers (others have relocated, while others did not wish to participate anymore) after almost two years of monitoring their relationship with their infants.
In sum, results of the experiments showed that mothers who were interviewed before giving birth and who reported more anxiety in watching the video of crying infants tend to have “resistant” infants than “secure” infants. Mothers of “avoidant” infants showed lower maternal sensitivity with their six-month-old babies than mothers of secure and resistant infants. Mothers of resistant infants manifested “significantly lower sensitivity” when their babies were at 16 months old than mothers of secure and avoidant infants. Avoidant infants showed more avoidant behavior than secure and resistant counterparts and resistant infants showed more resistant behavior than secure and avoidant infants.
The study said its results “suggest” mothers who are adversely affected by infants’ crying and have difficulty in sensitively responding can be identified before they even gave birth to their children and thus, they can be helped by authorities so they could change their behavior and have loving relationships with their children.
“Further, efforts to alter mothers’ emotional reactions to crying by changing their perceptions or attributions about what infant crying signals or by enhancing their strategies to regulate their arousal in response to crying might be fruitful modes of intervention to enhance sensitivity and subsequent attachment security,” the article also said.
The articles both shared the same premise that the way a mother responds to her infant will affect the latter’s attachment to her. The first article underscored the importance of a mother being in close contact with her infant as their closeness will also define the child’s development –attitude and relationship with others. The second article also showed the importance of a mother’s sensitivity in reacting to a crying infant as this will define eventually her own attachment and relationship to her child.
An interesting finding in the first article was that the presence of mothers was not really important given that their nursing capabilities played only second fiddle to the all important human close contact sought most by infants. It then noted that because of this finding, a man or in this case the father (and even a caregiver) can participate in the rearing of the child.
The articles also showed how the studies approached their premises differently. The first article discussed Harlowe’s use of rhesus monkeys and “surrogate” mothers as substitutes for humans in executing the experiments, while the second article discussed the study made use of of human mothers and infants.
The two articles talked about how mothers and infants were monitored in a certain period of time but for the first article, since it made use of “surrogate mothers” (that is, cloth and wire mothers) the emphasis of that study was more on the response made by the infants, in this case the infant monkeys, rather than the surrogate mothers.
In conclusion, I think that the two articles showed how important maternal contact and sensitivity play a big role in defining a mother’s relationship and attachment with her child. These displays of motherly affection and bonding also shape up the child’s future relationship with others. I agree that this kind of studies are helpful in a way that interventions can be done during early infancy, especially since we live in a fast moving society where sadly sometimes the casualties tend to be how the child would eventually relate with his parent/parents.
Understanding how to help rear a child positively early on will help build a better relationship between parents and children. Since mothers are the caregivers most of the time of their children, it’s important that they be guided on nurturing their offsprings who as the studies show in infancy look at the mother’s cues and attitudes in somehow determining whether they could rely on them for their protection and security.
Leerkes, E. M., Parade, S. H., & Gudmundson, J. A. (2011). Mothers’ Emotional Reactions to Crying Pose Risk for Subsequent Attachment Insecurity. Journal of Family Psychology , 635-643.
McElwain, N. L., Booth-LaForce, C., & Wu, X. (2011). Infant–Mother Attachment and Children’s Friendship Quality: Maternal Mental-State Talk as an Intervening Mechanism. Developmental Psychology , 1295-1311.