Touching behaviors of infants of depressed mothers during normal and perturbed interactions

Infant Behav Dev. 2009 Apr;32(2):183-94. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2008.12.009. Epub 2009 Feb 18.


The present study investigated the touching behaviors of 4-month-old infants of depressed and non-depressed mothers during the still-face (SF; maternal emotional unavailability) and separation (SP; maternal physical unavailability) procedures. Forty-one dyads participated in the present study; dyads were from low SES backgrounds and they exhibited poor relationship qualities (e.g. poor maternal sensitivity, low infant responsiveness); thus, they were considered at-risk. Results indicated that infants exhibited more patting and pulling when mothers were unavailable during the SF and SP procedures. Moreover, depression affected infants' tactile behaviors: infants of depressed mothers used more reactive types of touch (i.e. active touching behaviors, such as grab, pat, pull) than infants of non-depressed mothers during emotional and physical unavailability, suggesting greater activity levels in infants of depressed mothers. Negative relationship indicators, such as maternal intrusiveness and hostility, predicted soothing/regulatory (i.e. nurturing) and reactive/regulatory types of touch, even after controlling for maternal depression. Taken together, these results underscore the importance of touch for infant communication and regulation during early social interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Communication
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychological Tests
  • Regression Analysis
  • Touch*
  • Video Recording / methods
  • Young Adult