NIH Research Festival
In humans and other primates, mothers commonly engage in face-to-face interactions with their young infants including mutual gaze and exaggerated facial and vocal expressions, which are thought to motivate companionship by promoting mutual regulation of affect. While individual variability in these intersubjective interactions has been noted, potential later consequences for the infant have not been well documented. Using data from free-ranging rhesus macaques, we describe how maternal experience affects these interactions with primiparous mothers engaging in mutual gaze more frequently than multiparous mothers; and how mother-infant mutual gaze positively predicts the initiation of infant play bouts in later infancy. Moreover, under controlled laboratory conditions we found that rhesus macaque infants who experienced face-to-face interactions with a human experimenter had a significant preference for social stimuli in an eye tracking task, and showed higher rates of social contact when interacting with peers. These findings suggest that intimate social interactions influence social preferences even in newborns and may thus be critical for social development. Parental responsiveness and synchronization during early face-to-face mother-infant interactions may therefore promote a broad spectrum of positive developmental outcomes in infants’ social, emotional, and cognitive growth.
Scientific Focus Area: Social and Behavioral Sciences
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