Caregiver-infant interactions

Photo of baby's hand grasping an adult's figure

These activities concentrate on knowledge and understanding of research into caregiver-infant interactions.


Non-verbal communication skills.

Students sit in pairs facing each other. Seating is important here: one student (student A) needs to be sitting with their back to the whiteboard while the other (student B) sits opposite them so they are able to see the whiteboard behind their partner.

On the whiteboard write or display using PowerPoint a series of messages that student B needs to communicate to student A through facial expression and hand gestures alone. Student A has to work out what is being displayed on the board behind them.

Possible messages could be:

  • I am happy to see you
  • I am shocked
  • I am eating something that tastes disgusting

Following the activity introduce the focus of the lesson – to consider interactions between the caregiver and infant. Infancy refers to the period of time before the child is able to communicate verbally with others, meaning interactions are non-verbal (communicating without words and sometimes without sound).

Introduce two interactions that have been observed between caregiver and infant: reciprocity and interactional synchrony.

Reciprocity: responding to the actions of a person with a similar action. The response action may not be the same as the original action but does relate to it a meaningful way. For example, the caregiver leans into the infant and, in response, the infant reaches their hands towards the adult’s face.

Interactional synchrony: the mirroring of facial and body movements. For example, the caregiver sticks their tongue out and the infant imitates the action.

Main activity:

Provide students with the handout, ‘Outline one study of infant-caregiver interactions. (6 marks).’ handout

Students use their textbook (Complete Companion page 70) or class notes to add detail to the candidate’s response. The shaded boxes are not part of the candidate’s answer but encourage students to think about issues relating to the study being outlined.

Once this activity is completed students could be set the following questions:

  1. Piaget (1962) disagreed with Meltzoff and Moore’s conclusion that the imitation displayed by the infants was intentional. He claimed true imitation was only seen around 12 months of age not at two-three days as Meltzoff and Moore suggested. How would Piaget explain the imitation behavior seen in infants?
  2. Outline Murray and Trevarthen’s (1985) study and explain why this could be considered as supporting Meltzoff and Moore’s research.
  3. Why might caregiver-infant interactions be considered an innate rather than a learned response?

Question 3 relates to the evidence provided by Meltzoff and Moore (1977) who showed interactional synchrony in two and three day old infants and Murray and Trevarthen’s (1985) study of two month olds. Children appear to be born with the capacity to imitate others. This is a useful adaptive strategy, after all, infants are pretty much dependent on adults to attend to their every need if they are to survive. The ability to interact from birth is a useful tool in encouraging the formation of an attachment and secure a caregiver who will feed and protect them.


Handy summary. Students draw around their hand on a piece of paper. On each finger they write one key point from the lesson. In the palm they write an overall conclusion relating to the concept of caregiver-infant interactions.