Reposting – Decoding Mother-Infant Interaction: A Story of One Mother and Infant

The Carter-Jenkins Center is pleased to share a video by Beatrice Beebee, Phd.

Decoding Mother-Infant Interaction:
A story of one mother and infant

In this video we follow one mother’s experience of coming to Dr. Beebe’s filming lab for an “educational viewing” of the mother’s interaction with her infant who is four months old. Four months is an important age for studying mother-infant interaction. By four months, patterns of mother-infant interaction have already organized sufficiently that they can predict the infant’s later development, such as attachment security and cognition.

An educational viewing is a way of using our research to help parents see more of what their infants communicate to them, and to see more of what they communicate to their infants. Our research uses video microanalysis, which captures moment-to-moment sequences of interactions. This process is like a “social microscope,” enabling us to see subtle details of interactions which are too rapid and complex to grasp in real time with the naked eye. These moment-to-moment sequences show us how infant and mother affect each other.

In the educational viewing, first the mother is filmed playing face-to-face with her infant, and then Dr. Beebe is filmed playing face-to-face with the infant. Then the mother and Dr. Beebe together look at the films, first in real time, and then in slow-motion and frame-by-frame. 

The infant of this film is just emerging from having had colic in the first four months of life. It is extremely difficult to make an infant with colic comfortable. For four months, this mother has been so tuned in her infant’s discomfort, and she has been trying everything possible to help her baby calm down. However, by the time they come to the filming lab, the mother reports that the infant has been better in the prior couple weeks.

In this educational viewing, together the mother and Dr. Beebe discover that the mother is still in “colic-mode,” still very reactive to any slight sign of discomfort or distress in the infant. However, in this filming, the infant is mostly calm. Together, the mother and Dr. Beebe realize that the mother can calm down now also.

Some months later, when the mother was interviewed by the film maker Karen Dougherty, the mother describes how her experience with Dr. Beebe at the filming lab helped her readjust her interaction with her infant, who then “came back to her” and engaged with her more fully.

Beatrice Beebe PhD
Clinical Prof., Columbia Univ. Medical Center

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