Infants are able to interpret the environment and objects within the environment based on the affective information obtained from their caregivers, including mothers with whom they share a connection. Individuals’ use of facial expressions during infancy is associated with emotional development and self-orientation. Since an infant cannot make a decision regarding a particular object or phenomenon, they rely on affective communication from people, they know to respond to stimuli.
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In order to understand infants’ emotional propensity to affective communication, this paper is a review of Hornik’s, Risenhoover’s, and Gunnar’s (937-944) article, “The effects of maternal positive, neutral, and negative affective communication on infant responses to new toys” published in the Child Development Journal.
Hornik and colleagues (938-939) aimed to determine the rationale for the infants’ responses when exposed to maternal affective information using a two-trial study. Most studies have focused on social referencing as an appraisal and behavior-regulatory tool, but Hornik and his colleagues were of a different opinion. Hence, they aimed to determine whether social referencing is the actual mechanism governing infants’ response to emotional communication and social influence derived from maternal affective communication.
Also, Hornik and his colleagues aimed to determine the ability of infants to distinguish the different affective messages, the duration which infants’ response to a particular kind of affective communication lasts, and the influence of ambiguity on social referencing (938). These objectives were achieved through a first trial that aimed to determine the effect of maternal affective communication on infants’ responses while a second trial aimed to decipher whether infants’ responses at trial one would be carried over to trial two after maternal positive and negative affective communication changed to silent and neutral modes of affective communication.
Social referencing was shown to be an essential strategy that guides behavior during infancy and contributes to a person’s personality later on in life. Hornik and colleagues (942) revealed that infants exposed to negative and disgusting maternal cues played less with the toys regardless of the nature of toys as opposed to infants exposed to positive and neutral maternal affective information.
Infants were able to associate maternal affective communication with the stimulus toys; maternal affective communication did not influence the infants’ attitude towards the free-play toys. Maternal affective communication did not have specific effects on ambiguity since maternal affective communication influenced the infants’ appraisal of the less ambiguous toys as well. The study concluded that the infants’ responses to affective behavior were attributed to social referencing in comparison to mood modification. The social referencing adaptation response relies on the infants’ appraisal of the situation to give off a certain response while mood modification is a direct influence on the infants’ cognitive and emotional domains to mirror the caregivers’ affective information.
Negative affective information was shown to have an immediate effect on an infant’s response than other kinds of stimuli, including the positive and the silent and neutral stimuli. In addition, the negative affective information was shown to have an upper hand in regulating an infant’s behavior. Hornik and colleagues (943) also indicate that the first maternal cue holds water even after the mother ceases to indicate this cue. This study, which is in alignment with other studies aiming to indicate the effect of maternal affective information, highlights the salient effects of parental modeling of distressful behavior on child development.
Hornik’s and colleagues’ two-trial study aimed to decipher the mechanism through which the infants responded to maternal cues. Nonetheless, it failed to highlight the duration of time an infant is exposed to a certain affective form of communication, which is deemed to significantly influence the infants’ responses (Hornik et al. 938). All in all, it is apparent that maternal cues guide infants’ behavior when faced with an ambiguous situation.
Hornik, Robin, Nancy Risenhoover, and Megan Gunnar. “The effects of maternal positive, neutral, and negative affective communications on infant responses to new toys.” Child Development 58 (1987): 937-944. Print.