Infancy: Social & Personality Development


Prepared by Ethel Cantu

Based on Development Across the Life Span,
by Robert Feldman, Prentice-Hall



Infants show distinct personalities

Temperament, the rudiments of personality, is largely inborn, but also affected by the environment

Personality development influenced by interaction of child’s temperament with experiences in the environment, especially quality of interaction with caregivers




Developing Attachment

Developing Trust

Developing Autonomy


Social Relationships



Brain maturation and cognitive development influence emotions

newborns express distress, interest, disgust

basic emotions (anger, surprise, joy, fear, sadness) develop in first six months

universal, survival value

self-conscious emotions (empathy, jealousy, shame, guilt, pride, embarassment) require self-awareness develop in 2nd and 3rd year


Developing Attachments

Attachment: active, affectionate, reciprocal, enduring relationship      LOVE

based on infant's needs for safety and security (especially from the mother)

critical for allowing the infant to explore the world

Having a strong, firm attachment provides a safe base from which the child can gain independence.



Stages of Attachment


respond more to primary caregiver

sharply defined attachment to primary caregiver

accompanied by fear of strangers

attachment to familiar figures



Distress displayed by infants when a customary care provider departs.

begins about 8 or 9 months and peaks at 14 months

Starts slightly later than stranger anxiety

Largely attributable to the same cognitive skills as stranger anxiety.



Based on Bowlby's work, Mary Ainsworth developed the AINSWORTH STRANGE SITUATION, a sequence of 8 staged episodes that illustrate the strength of attachment between a child and (typically) his or her mother.

The 8 staged episodes of the

Mother & baby enter an unfamiliar room

Mother sits, letting baby explore

Adult stranger enters room can converses with mom and then baby

Mother exits the room, leaving baby with stranger

Mom returns; greets and comforts baby and stranger leaves

Mom departs leaving baby alone

Stranger returns

Mother returns and stranger leaves




use mother as a safe base

At ease as long as she is present, exploring when they can see her, upset when she leaves, and go to her when she returns.


do not seek proximity to the mother

After she leaves they seem to avoid her when she returns, as if they are angered by her behavior.


combination of positive and negative reactions to their mothers

Show great distress when the mother leaves, but upon her return they may seek close contact but also hit and kick her.


 show inconsistent, often contradictory behavior

Approach the mother when she returns but not look at her; they may be the least securely attached children of all.



Infant attachment may have significant consequences for later relationships

Not all children who are not securely attached as infants experience difficulties later in life

Some research suggests that those who had avoidant and ambivalent attachment do quite well later in life.

Differences in attachment behaviors may reflect cultural practices.


Establishing Attachment

Secure attachment evolves from trust

consistent responding to infant’s needs

affectionate, attentive, responsive interactions

mutual regulation and social referencing

Insecure attachment evolves from mistrust

insensitive to infant’s needs

under or over involvement with infant

physical abuse and neglect

Interaction of caregiver’s sensitivity, infant’s temperament and goodness of fit


Developing Trust

Erikson’s first critical developmental stage

crisis of trust vs mistrust

develop sense of how reliable people and objects are

develop balance between trust (form intimate relationships) and mistrust (protect themselves)

Trust: world is friendly, predictable

develop belief that they can fulfill their needs

Mistrust: world is unfriendly, unpredictable

develop difficulty in forming relationships

need sensitive, consistent caregiving to develop trust


Developing Autonomy

Independence and self-control depends on self-awareness

recognize themselves as distinct beings

rouge test: awareness of self as separate

describe and evaluate themselves

apply terms to themselves

upset by caregiver’s disapproval

foundation for moral understanding of right and wrong


Developing Autonomy

Erikson’s 2nd critical developmental stage

crisis of autonomy vs shame and doubt

shift from external control to self-control

develop balance between freedom and limits of their abilities and limits of society’s rules

autonomy: “Me do!”

Do things for themselves, develop competence

shame and doubt

Feel they are wrong, bad, and/or incompetent

Allow toddlers to explore, make decisions with prepared environment and supervision



How infants respond to stimuli is inborn and remains stable over lifespan

Categories of temperament

easy: happy, rhythmic, accepting

difficult: irritable, harder to please, irregular in rhythms, more intense emotionally

slow-to-warm-up: mild but slow to adapt to new situations

Many children (35%) do not fit neatly into these three groups



Although temperament is stable across the life, environmental factors can bring change

parental treatment, parental attitudes

“Goodness of fit” between parents and child is important factor in adjustment

parents who recognize child’s temperament and work with, not against it have better adjusted children


Social Relationships

Caregiver’s Role

Provide comfort of close bodily contact

Be responsive to infant’s needs for food, comfort, stimulation

Be socially and emotionally responsive to infant’s attempts to interact

Men and women equally capable in responsiveness and sensitivity

depends on attitude and competence, not gender



High quality caregiver-child interactions is key to healthy emotional and social development and to successful socialization