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2 Action Regulation: Development of Intentionality and Goal-Directed Coping

2 Action Regulation: Development of Intentionality and Goal-Directed Coping

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6 Development of Coping during Infancy …



which attributes or events are dangerous. They also communicate information to

social partners: alerting others to contaminated substances or danger, and informing

them about one’s determination to complete one’s own goals (see Barrett and

Campos 1991, Table 2.1).

In challenging, but not overwhelming, interactions with social partners and

material environments, infants develop the capacity to flexibly deploy and focus

attention on their intentional and goal-directed actions, based on motivational goals

and expectations about the effects their actions will produce (Braungart-Rieker and

Stifter 1996; Bridges and Grolnick 1995; McCarty et al. 1999). Perhaps the enriched

world provided by the caregiver comes to be viewed as full of potentially interesting

experiences: novel objects and people, opportunities to explore, experiment, and

learn about environmental and social affordances and the effects of one’s own actions.

Such motivation provides energy and direction for the practice of motor behaviors,

such as visual orienting, reaching, and grasping, eventually culminating in

self-produced locomotion during the second half of the first year of life (Adolph and

Berger 2015). In turn, motor development sets up conditions for the continuous

practice, consolidation, and improvement of sensorimotor coordination, which promote more effective transactions with the social and physical worlds (Campos et al.

2004). Nurturance of infants’ intrinsic motivations primes readiness for constructive

action in response to demands and challenges, supporting default responses to

potentially stressful experiences that resemble constructive families of coping, such

as exploration, engagement, and expression of genuine feelings and preferences.

Goal-directed action and early “problem-focused coping.” These capacities

create ideal conditions for the practice and consolidation of goal-directed action and

the development of sensorimotor intentionality during the first year of life

(Delafield-Butt and Gangopadhyay 2013). Actions, including attention, emotion,

motivation, and motor behaviors, come to be coordinated or regulated by intentions

and by feedback about the effects of these actions in reaching their intended goals

(Delafield-Butt and Gangopadhyay 2013; Zeedyk 1996). Especially important to the

development of coping are episodes in which infants cannot fully realize their

intentions, that is, when their efforts are not successful. As noted by Barrett and

Campos (1991), “stress serves to organize adaptive responses to the encounter”

(p. 22). The tension created by blocked or unreached goals can spontaneously organize infants’ biobehavioral systems, both across the neurological subsystems themselves (Lewis and Todd 2007) and between neurophysiological and action subsystems

(including attention, emotion, motivation, and motor subsystems). Such interactions

not only exercise and consolidate existing connections, but (as might be expected by

the “demandingness” of challenging encounters in which goals are not immediately

reached) they also stretch infants’ actions into a zone of proximal development, where

new strategies, experiments, and coordinations are generated and implemented.

These long strings of persistent action attempts begin to systematically link preferences to goal-directed intentions and may introduce emotion- and problem-focused

“coping” responses based on goal relevance. Even during the first year of life, “failure” can trigger rudimentary compensatory actions that also resemble coping: Infants

may become more energized, increase their exertions toward the goal, and try out



6.2 Action Regulation: Development of Intentionality …



121



alternative action schemes (DeLoache et al. 1985; McCarty et al. 1999). In the same

vein, if goals are blocked, infants may express frustration and direct energy toward the

obstacle, or they may withdraw their efforts and switch to another goal (Calkins et al.

2002). Over time, the balance between neurophysiological control and intentional

supervision continues to shift—actions are controlled less and less by reactive neurophysiological systems, and coordinated more and more by appraisals and action

schema, which become progressively more complex, integrated, and generalized as

sensorimotor cognitive processes develop (DeLoache and Brown 1987).

Emergence of rudimentary coping. All of these reactions to challenges and

problems can be considered rudimentary members of the 12 coping families

described in Chap. 2. For example, increased effort and experimentation could be

early precursors of the “problem-solving” family, whereas switching to another

goal or diverting attention (e.g., through gaze aversion) could be forms of “accommodation.” When challenge or threat increases, “proximity seeking” would

continue to provide an omnibus fallback strategy, the use of which also becomes

more selective and intentional over this developmental period as infants develop a

hierarchy of social preferences (Howes 1999). At the same time, infants also

become more differentiated in their utilization of social strategies, supplementing

proximity seeking (aimed primarily at securing comfort and safety) with social

support aimed at instrumental action or information-seeking. For example, infants

become more adept at “indirect coping” (Barrett and Campos 1991) or “delegation,” in which they deploy the actions of their caregivers through the use of

intentional communications designed to elicit desired outcomes, such as sending a

caregiver’s hand to retrieve a toy that is out of reach.

Toward the second half of the first year of life, infants also begin to use social

“information-seeking” strategies when they encounter novel or ambiguous events,

in a process known as “social referencing.” The development of this capacity is

summarized succinctly by Sherman et al. (2015):

Not only do infants use available social information to interpret situations, but considerable

research now indicates that infants actively seek such information through referential

looking as young as 7 months of age (e.g., Baldwin & Moses, 1996; Striano & Rochat,

2000). This research consistently shows that infants look toward adults in the environment

and – particularly in ambiguous settings – behave as a function of the emotional signals that

the adult conveys (e.g., Feinman & Lewis, 1983; Gunnar & Stone, 1984; see also Carver &

Cornew, 2009). The visual cliff is an apparatus commonly used in studies to evaluate infant

social referencing. In these studies, infants are placed on one side of a divide and an adult

(either mother or experimenter) is on the other side of the divide. The distance and height of

the divide can be visually manipulated such that infants clearly know it is safe, clearly

know it is unsafe, or are unsure whether it is safe to cross. Studies show that when infants

are unsure whether crossing the divide is safe, they will cross if their mother signals that it

is safe, but will not cross if their mother expresses fear (e.g., Sorce, Emde, Campos, &

Klinnert, 1985)…

Infants also engage in social referencing during distressing situations. Striano and Rochat

(2000) found that between 7 and 10 months of age, infants develop selective social referencing. The researchers exposed 7- and 10-month-old infants to a mechanical barking dog

while an experimenter either looked toward the infant or looked away. Seven-month-olds

referenced the experimenter after the dog barked in both the looking toward and looking



122



6 Development of Coping during Infancy …



away conditions, whereas 10-month-olds referenced the experimenter after the dog barked

only in the looking toward condition. These results suggest that infants in this age range

seek out the emotional signals of social partners and that by 10 months of age, infants can

appreciate the subtlety in the availability of adults during distressing situations. (p. 15)



These developing social referencing skills allow infants to consult their caregiver’s

“radar” (for signals of fear, safety, or interest) over some distance in order to make

decisions about the potential dangers present in new situations and the extent to

which they should engage or withdraw from specific encounters (Fonagy et al.

2007; Lewis and Ramsay 1999).



6.3



Changing Role of Social Partners: Development

of a Co-regulatory Coping System



Over the first months of life, the coping system is transformed from one characterized largely by external coping carried out by the caregiver based on information

provided by the neonate, to one in which the infant–caregiver relationship becomes a

truly dyadic co-regulatory social system (Fogel 1993; Gianino and Tronick 1988).

Although neonates’ initial expressions of negative emotions are simply diffuse

outward manifestations of their internal states of distress or discomfort, these

expressions quickly take on communicative functions, as caregivers respond to these

signals with appropriate comfort and care. As explained by Holodynski and

Friedlmeier (2006), “One of the tasks of caregivers is to interpret unfocused signals

as an appeal, to use their own initiative to ascertain the reason for distress or a smile,

to remove the cause of the distress, and to repeat or allow to continue the cause of

smiling” (p. 102). These strings of contingent responsive interactions so carefully

documented by attachment theorists (Ainsworth et al. 1978) cumulatively shape

infants’ emotional and motivational expressions, converting them to increasingly

intentional communications, as described by Holodynski and Friedlmeier (2006):

Caregivers augment the infant precursor emotions and form functioning emotions that serve

motives by interpreting the still unfocused infant expressive and body reactions in motivationally appropriate ways, mirroring them in their own expression in the form of exaggerated expression signs, and reacting promptly with coping actions that serve infants’

motives. The expressive and body reactions of the infant in interplay with the interpretations, expression signs, and coping actions of the caregiver form a preadapted interpersonal

unit. (p. 95)



Emergence of a co-regulatory coping system. Infants’ emotional and behavioral expressions combined with the caregiver’s sensitive responsiveness can be

considered to create a kind of “co-regulatory coping system” in which babies and

caregivers are in good communication about how to deal with challenging, and

potentially threatening, encounters (Diamond and Aspinwall 2003; Evans and

Porter 2009; Hornik et al. 1987; Lewis and Ramsay 1999; Sorce et al. 1985).

Co-regulation, which refers to social exchanges in which individuals continuously



6.3 Changing Role of Social Partners: Development …



123



and dynamically adjust their actions to fit the ongoing and anticipated actions of

their partner (Fogel 1993), shows regular developments over the first year of life, as

infants’ capacities for sustained and joint attention improve.

For example, in a study examining development and stability in emerging patterns of co-regulation in mother–infant dyads over the latter half of the first year of

life, Evans and Porter (2009) found that mother–infant dyads became increasingly

less unilateral and more symmetrical in their interactions from 6 to 9 and from 9 to

12 months of age. They attribute these changes to a number of factors that contribute to the development of co-regulation:

First, infants’ attentional capacities during this time frame perceptibly increase (Adamson &

McArthur, 1995) allowing infants to direct attention to features of the social ecology. Such

an increase in attention and responsiveness to social stimuli likely elicits additional

responsiveness from a caregiver resulting in ongoing interaction whereby joint attention is

maintained and communication about the interaction is produced. Similarly, as an infant

develops and acquires new motor and cognitive abilities, he/she is no longer reliant on an

attentive caregiver to initiate and maintain patterns of interaction. Rather, the infant now

has the capacity to build on pre-existing frames of interaction resulting in more interaction

marked by infant caregiver joint attention as opposed to the caregiver being a spectator to

the infants’ abilities. Prior research supports the notion of such developmental changes in

infants’ interactive abilities, including work showing that infants increase positive signals

(vocalizations, pointing) and decrease negative signals (crying) directed towards parent

(Kochanska & Aksan 2004). Such an increase in positivity directed at a caregiver likely

plays a key role in facilitating continuity in interaction indicative of symmetrical

co-regulation. However, this is contingent on a sensitive mother who appropriately

responds to her infants’ signals in order to promote ongoing symmetry in co-regulated

interactions. (Evans and Porter 2009, p. 153 and 155)



A history of verbal and nonverbal sensitive responsiveness from caregivers, as

described previously, results in greater equanimity (reduced stress reactivity) on the

part of the infant while also allowing infants to express, and to more intentionally

communicate, the full range of their genuine emotions and preferences (Bornstein

and Tamis-LeMond 1989; Paavola et al. 2005). Taken together, this set of experiences “enables neonates to develop into infants with differentiated emotions who

signal their motives to their caregivers through succinct emotion-specific expressive

signs, enabling the latter to react promptly with appropriate motive-serving coping

actions” (Holodynski and Friedlmeier 2006, p. 91). Hence, infants generally

become calmer, as well as more discriminating in their signals and bids, allowing

caregivers to “get to know” their babies better and to respond even more perceptively to their expressed preferences. Based on these interpersonal exchanges,

infants begin to develop a differentiated set of appreciations and action tendencies

that are integrated with caregivers’ responses to infants’ signals, including caregivers’ strategies for repair and comfort (Barrett and Campos 1991; Kopp 1989).

Joint construction of co-regulated “coping packages.” Over time, these

coregulated interactions, organized around infants’ communications of difficulties

and distress, allow caregiver and infant to build up a repertoire of constructive

interpersonal coping strategies that are targeted at the actual problem and are

effective in both dealing with the stressor and bringing comfort, relief, and motive



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