Aug. 22nd, 2011

If you have plans to collect fennel pollen, it is time to turn plans into action.

Maybe even a little past time -- my fennel has gone to fruit but the neighbors' look still in flower; I'll hit them up.
The "still face" is a psychological experiment where an adult engages with the infant and makes eye contact, but then holds a poker face instead of responding normally. Babies who are of social age (~2 months and up) respond with puzzlement, increased effort to draw attention, agitation, distress, and withdrawal. (I have not tried this on my kids and really don't care to.)

That's for background for another experiment I ran across a description of. In this experiment, you have the parent and baby looking at each other through a video link, some clever setup of half-silvered mirrors. You tape this video of them doing their happy animated thing. Then you switch and start showing the baby taped footage. So here the parent's face hasn't gone neutral, it's still just as animated, but it's not animated in reaction to the baby. And the result here is that the baby can tell. They need the "contingency" -- nifty result! (Murray and Trevarthen, 1985.)

I found in looking it up for this post, though, that this result sadly may not hold up. One study (abstract, full PDF) tried carefully to replicate it, and failed. (The authors suggest a methodological cause: Murray and Trevarthen made the switch from live to tape when "an active interchange was reached", i.e. an above-normal level of engagement, from which you expect to fluctuate back down towards normal even with no intervention at that point.)

As the authors point out, their negative result doesn't show that infants don't sense interpersonal attunement, only that this experimental setup doesn't find it.



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