Thursday, June 23, 2011

Resource Spotlight! The "Still Face" Experiment

Have you ever tried the “Still Face” experiment with your child? It was designed by Dr. Edward Tronick, director of UMass Boston's new Infant-Parent Mental Health Program and Distinguished Professor of Psychology. This experiment was a result of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s work, a pediatrician who is known as the first person to place observation of the child/parent interaction at the center of his pediatric research. 

“Still face” is an experimental procedure for studying infant social and emotional development. First, the mother plays with her baby that’s about a year old. They engage, interact, and the mother responds to the infant’s cues. Then the parent suddenly looks away and turns back with a “still face” and stops responding. A developmentally normal baby will recognize that something is wrong and try everything to get the mother’s attention and interact again. They will keep trying to influence the parent to engage while the parent remains disconnected from the child and his/her needs. The infant will smile, point, put both hands up in the air or make screechy sounds. The infant will eventually crumble and turn their head away or lose their posture because of the stress they’re experiencing. This demonstrates TYPICAL BEHAVIOR. After a short period of time, the parent then returns to playing and reengages her infant. The parent can then quickly change the child’s emotion as she responds to the infant. 

This interaction of moving from good socialization to periods of bad but repairable socialization has been used to study many aspects of early social and emotional development. This test is used to find infants who DO NOT attempt to engage the unresponsive mother. This behavior is a warning sign for ASD or other mental health disorders because developmentally normal infants are very responsive to their social environment.

The video below shows the “Still Face” experiment. Take a look and then try it!


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