Social and instrumental interaction styles across age and context: A longitudinal study of Central American and Euro-American mother-infant dyads

Lynn Marie Shelley-Sireci, Fordham University


Two styles of caregiver and infant interaction are social and instrumental. Social interaction maintains physical closeness between caregiver and infant, and instrumental interaction promotes exploration of the environment. The present study examined the stability and continuity of these interaction styles across age, context, and sub-cultural group, and explored the relationship of interaction styles to attachment. Forty Central American immigrant and 42 middle-class Euro-American mother-infant dyads participated in assessments at home when the infants were 4-, 8-, and 12-months-old. During the visits mother-child interactions were videotaped in unstructured free play, and a structured teach situation. Videotapes were coded using microanalytic procedures and micro-codes were utilized to create the interaction style variables mother social, mother instrumental, infant social, and infant instrumental. Results showed Central American mothers used interaction styles in a stable manner across the first year, and their infants showed stability between 4- and 8-months. The Euro-American sample, however, failed to show stability in interaction across the first year. For both samples, maternal interactions were not stable across situations, but, young infants showed significant stability across situations. Longitudinal examination of mothers and infants playing revealed decreasing maternal interaction, decreasing infant social, and increasing infant instrumental interaction in both samples. As infants' physical abilities developed, mothers directed behavior less. The structured teaching situation did not reveal a similar pattern. Significant mean differences in levels of interaction styles during teach versus play revealed higher levels of infant interaction during play, and of maternal interaction during teach. Previous research indicated early mother-infant interactions differ as a function of economic status and cultural background. The present results reveal remarkable convergence between two culturally and economically diverse samples. However, despite convergence, the findings also demonstrated differences. Results for middle-class Euro-Americans do not necessarily generalize to other populations. Additional research on subcultural groups would enhance the generalizability of developmental theory and research.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Social psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Shelley-Sireci, Lynn Marie, "Social and instrumental interaction styles across age and context: A longitudinal study of Central American and Euro-American mother-infant dyads" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9530043.