Going beyond description - A fourfold methodological approach to analyse the effects of caregivers on infant smiling behavior and development

Project Details


This project looks at interactions of mothers and infants from two cultures that were shown to differ concerning maternal ethnotheories about ideal infant affect, namely mothers from urban middle-class families in Germany and mothers from rural Kichwa families in Ecuador.

The proposed project aims at providing converging evidence for the effects of caregivers on infant smiling behaviour and development across different methodological approaches.

The longitudinal observational approach allows to analyse the developmental trajectories of infant smiling and maternal behavior across weeks 8 to 18.

The cross-cultural approach allows to, first, contrast caregivers’ ethnotheories about infant smiling and their manifestation in caregivers’ behavior during mother-infant interaction and, second, to analyse the emergence of potentially culture-specific developmental pathways of infant smiling between 2 and 5 months of age.

The standardised approach allows, first, to substantiate the assumption that caregivers’ culture-specific ethnotheories are the driving force of the expected cross-cultural differences in smiling behavior and development. Second, the assessment of infants’ responsiveness to standardised smiling stimulation allows to assess implications of maternal behaviour for infant development.

Finally, the process approach allows to analyse the dynamics of mother-infant interaction associated with infant smiling, with a specific focus on the bidirectional coupling of infant smiling and maternal smiling and stimulation and how these links change across developmental time.

In all analyses, we follow the main hypothesis that mother and infant behaviour around infant smiling, that is, maternal stimulation of affect-expressive behaviour and maternal and infant affect-expressive behaviour in different modalities, is more pronounced in the Münster dyads as compared to the Kichwa dyads.

Furthermore, we will test whether the hypothesised cross-cultural differences can be explained by differences in caregivers’ ethnotheories about ideal infant affect.

Overall, these analyses have the potential to provide converging evidence for the effects of caregivers on infant smiling behavior and development.
Short titleiSmile
Effective start/end date1/04/2431/03/26