Mother-infant interaction and the development of mastery motivation in infancy

Connors, Elizabeth (1995) Mother-infant interaction and the development of mastery motivation in infancy. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Infant motivation towards competence or mastery is said to be enhanced by contingent environmental feedback (White, 1959). This theory has been supported by research into the contingent responsiveness of the infant caretaking environment (e.g. Vondra & Belsky, 1989). Other caregiving variables have also been found to contribute such as the provision of sensory stimulation, focusing infant attention and low restrictiveness (Belsky, Goode & Most, 1980, Jennings, Harmon, Morgan, Gaiter & Yarrow, 1979; Yan-ow, Morgan, Jennings, Harmon & Gaiter, 1982). However, findings have been inconsistent. The first aim of the present study was to clari& previous research findings and, more specifically, to determine the importance of contingent experience in the first half year of life to the development of mastery motivation as this period has hitherto been neglected. Secondly, as the experience of social contingencies early in infancy has also been found to be associated with security of infant-caregiver attachment (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978), it was hypothesised that there would be a relationship between infant attachment and mastery motivation. Finally, on the basis of findings that more difficult infants may experience less responsive maternal caregiving (van den Boom, 1989), it was proposed that infant difficultness would also be related to mastery motivation.
55 Mother-infant pairs were observed in everyday home interaction at 3 '/2, 8 and 14 months. Maternal contingent responsiveness, sensitivity, warmth, stimulation, infant attention focusing, restrictions and intrusive/insensitive behaviour were studied in relation to infant social and inanimate interaction. Mothers completed the ICQ (Bates, Freeland & Lounsbury, 1979) as a measure of infant diThcultness at each of the three stages. At 8 and 14 months infant mastery motivation was examined using a standard free-play procedure (Vondra & Belsky, 1991). Finally, infant attachment was measured at 14 months using the Attachment Behaviour Q-sort (Waters, 1987).
Findings revealed that maternal contingent responsiveness to infant social initiations and distress, stimulation and focusing infant attention, measured at various stages of the study were positively correlated with aspects of infant mastery motivation measured at 8 and 14 months. Restrictions and intrusive/insensitive behaviour were found to be negatively correlated with infant mastery motivation. Stepwise regression indicated that the most significant predictors of 8 month mastery motivation were maternal warmth measured at 3 '/2 months and stimulation and intrusive/insensitive behaviour measured at 8 months. Responsiveness to infant distress and maternal intrusive/insensitive behaviour, both measured at 3 1/2 months, were found to be significant predictors of 14 month mastery motivation, thus, providing evidence of the importance of contingent responding during the early infancy period. However, intrusive/insensitive behaviour and contingent responsiveness to infant social initiations measured at 14 months were also significant predictors of 14 month mastery motivation. A moderate, but significant relationship was found between infant Attachment Q-sort scores and one measure of 14 month mastery
motivation which indicated that more securely attached infants explored at a higher level of sophistication and showed greater pleasure in free-play. Stepwise regression indicated that the strongest predictors of 14 month infant attachment security were maternal warmth measured at 3 1/2 and 14 months and maternal sensitivity measured at 8 months. Contingent responsiveness at 3 1/2 months was not found to be of special significance to the development of secure attachment. Finally, infants rated as more difficult by their mothers performed more poorly along several measures of both 8 and 14 month mastery motivation than infants rated as less difficult. Infants who were perceived as more difficult had experienced higher levels of physical stimulation and more intrusive/insensitive caregiving during the first year.
These findings show that infant mastery motivation may be influenced from an early age by both the behaviour of caregivers and by infant dispositional characteristics. Thus, there are important implications for the development of infants who, due to various disabilities, have difficulty in eliciting contingent responses from their caregivers or who, for whatever reason, may be perceived as difficult. The study focused on motivation for mastery of the inanimate environment and it is acknowledged that some infants may instead be predisposed or channelled towards mastery in the social environment. Further research is required to identi& individual differences in mastery orientation and to determine the longer term motivational consequences of early infant experiences.

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