Stages of Infant Development, as Illustrated by Responses to the Peek-a-Boo Game

Article excerpt

Infants' responses to different peek-a-boo stimuli presented by experimenters illustrate three infant non-mentalistic stages of development (Commons et al., 1998). Results showed that for the youngest infants (sensory and motor stage), almost any kind of interactive contact with another human (as long as it included vocalization with smiling and eye-contact) produced responses such as smiling. Between roughly 4 and 8 months (circular sensory motor stage), the specific version of the game that was played became important. Games that included hiding, coming out and saying peek-a-boo in an animated voice obtained maximum responses; games more divergent produced less responding. For older infants (sensory motor stage) games that diverged from the standard in specific ways could sometimes produce even higher rates of responsiveness, although this depended on the particular circumstances.

Parent-infant interactions have been the topic of literally thousands of studies. Studies have examined infants and their parents in very structured situations (e.g., Brazelton, Koslowski & Main, 1974) or more naturalistic situations (LeVine et al., 1994; Stern, 1977; Trevarthen, 1980. Many studies of interactions have focused on attachment or attachment-related processes (e.g., Ainsworth et al., 1978 and others). The current study examines responses to the game of peek-a-boo in infants up to 2 years of age.

Because peek-a-boo has such a definite structure, it provides a framework with which to study the ways in which infants' participation in interactions changes during the first two years of life. It has been related to linguistic interactions; Ratner & Bruner (1978) argued that it could assist in language development because of its highly structured and repetitive structure. It also is a form of game-playing and has often been studied from that perspective. Rome-Flanders et al. (1995) videotaped naturalistically-occurring peek-a-boo interactions between infants 6 to 24 months of age and their mothers. They found significant changes across age in the gestures used and the emotional reactions observed, and evidence that infants increasingly understood the 'rules of the game.' Parrott (1989) found that infants as young as 6 months of age had developed expectations of what would happen at certain times in the game, and when he switched the expected components in some way, they showed less responsiveness. The peek-a-boo game has also been used as a framework within which to study emotion regulation in infants. Stifter & Moyer (1991), for example, found that young infants (5-month olds) use gaze aversion during the peek-a-boo game to regulate their arousal. Hodapp & Goldfield (1985) found that infant and mother regulation seemed to function in a complementary fashion in pairs studied between 8 and 15 months of age, and that the mother's structuring of the situation was an essential part of the development of self-regulation.

In all of the above studies, developmental changes are referred to in a general way. The changes in behavior are not related to developmental stages. In the current study, 15 variations of the peek-a-boo game were played with the infants. These 15 variations were generated by separating the game into 5 components: hiding, coming out, smiling, saying peek-a-boo, and using an animated voice. The reactions of infants to the different variations of the game will be examined and related to changes in infant developmental stages, as these have been proposed by the Model of Hierarchical Complexity (Commons, Trudeau et al., 1998).



The participants in this study were 51 infants between 15 and 650 days old (24 female, M = 212 (S.D. = 123); 27 males, M = 183 (S.D. = 147). All subjects resided in an urban area of Manitoba, a Western Canadian province. Experimenters and observers were persons enrolled in an undergraduate psychology course and mothers and fathers of the infants. …