The rhythmic structure of mother-infant interaction in term and preterm infants

Child Dev. 1985 Feb;56(1):15-27.


The purpose of this study was to quantify social interaction rhythms in 3- and 5-month-old term and preterm infants and their mothers. Infant-mother dyads were videotaped in a 3-min face-to-face paradigm. For each second of the interaction, separate scores were assigned to infant and mother indicating levels of affective involvement, creating 2 180-sec time series. Spectral and cross-spectral techniques were used to quantify periodicities in each member of the dyad and to estimate the synchrony or coherence of interactional rhythms between each infant and mother. Results showed the existence of periodicities in the behavior of each infant and mother at 3 and 5 months, with most subjects showing spectral peaks between .022 and .10 Hz. Increases from 3 to 5 months in behavioral periodicities were found for infants and mothers as well as for the coherence between infant-mother dyads. Term dyads showed higher coherence than preterm dyads at both 3 and 5 months. Term infants more often led the interaction at both ages. These results were taken as evidence that behavioral periodicities, which may be biologically based, underlie early mother-infant interaction and provide a temporal structure for the organization of cognitive and affective experience. Differences in synchrony between term and preterm infants may explain later reported differences in language between these groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Periodicity*
  • Risk