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Mother-Child Reunion Behaviors in Two Cultural Contexts

Hiltrud Otto1), Hannah Bartl1), Brian Shin2), Irene Dimatulac2) & Heidi Keller3)

1)

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel


2)

3)

City University of New York, USA

University of Osnabrueck, Germany

Author note
This research was supported by the Martin Buber Society of Fellows.
The authors would like to thank all the participating families for their willingness to
cooperate.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Hiltrud Otto, The
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Martin Buber Society of Fellows, Rabin Building Room
2201, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. Contact: hotto@uos.de

Abstract
Mother-child reunions are an integral part of the Strange Situation procedure. While
the laboratory procedure looks at predefined behavioral this study explores mother-child
reunion behaviors in natural contexts outside the laboratory. Comparing xx 12-month old
middle-class infants from Germany and xx 12-month old Nso children from a rural
Cameroonian region We find that These result indicate The study shows that ...

Key words: Mother-child reunion; culture; 12-month old infants; natural observations;
multiple caretakers

Mother-Child Reunion Behaviors in Two Cultural Contexts

1. Reunions (needs the separation, too) from a developmental perspective,


general: Developmental psychology assumes that 12-month old infants experience
considerable stress when separated from their mothers and confronted by a stranger. Once the
child is reunited with the mother, the mothers soothes the child, which in turn calms down and
starts exploring the environment again. What happens in reunions? Why do children need
their primary caregiver to calm down? Neuropsychological evidence what happens in the
brain?
2. Separation and Reunion as part of the laboratory procedure of the strange
situation: Mother-child separations and reunions are part of the Strange Situation Procedure,
a laboratory procedure that regulate the distance between mother, stranger and infant
(Ainsworth & Bell, 1970; True, Pisani, & Oumar, 2001). The standardized instruction is
supposed to lead to identical behavior of the strangers thus allowing researchers to compare
infants reactions to strangers cross-culturally. In the first reunion situation, . In the second
reunion situation, typically observable that infants do this, mothers do that
3. Natural observations of reunions: we need ethnographic and anthropological data,
to show differences in reunion behaviors as they occur in everyday life, e.g. taking children to
a doctor, kindergarden, . What do we know about how children and mothers react to the
separation and in the reunion, examples for middle-class families and rural traditional
families. Using these examples to illustrate that human beings are cultural beings, that their
cultural models are intrinsic to the self and guide actions, often intuitively without conscious
awareness.
4. Culture and cultural models: Whiting and Whiting stated in 1975 that cultural
contexts, defined as the economy, social structure, settlement pattern, and household and
family organization [] determine the learning environments in which children are brought

up, thus influencing their behavior (Whiting & Whiting, 1975, p. 66). (maybe refer to Super
& Harkness, developmental niche). The different socioeconomic conditions as
conceptualized in the Whiting model (Whiting & Whiting, 1975) can be assumed to be
represented in cultural models that contain sets of values, beliefs and traditions that are held
by specific groups of people, and consciously and unconsciously guide their actions (Sigel,
McGillicuddy-DeLisi, & Goodnow, 1992). Cultural models can be described as particular
combinations of autonomy and relatedness (Kagitibasi, 2005) which pertain to different
domains of children s developmental contexts, e.g. to mother-child interactions (Keller et al.,
2004; 2009) and stranger-child interactions (Otto & Potinius, 2014). Culturally divergent
views of children s learning environment and their behavioral development have been
portrayed with respect to soothing (Best, House, Barnard, & Spicker, 1994; Vinall, Riddell, &
Greenberg, 2011, lets check this literature, too!).
5. We want to see how mother-child reunions look like in two prototypical
cultural contexts in an everyday situation
German middle-class families from the cities of Osnabrueck.
Infants from Nso families in Cameroon were chosen as a prototypical rural traditional
subsistence-based sample.
6. Hypotheses
Based on the contextual portraits of our study groups, we assume that Following
attachment theorys assumption that stranger anxiety is highest in children around 12 month
of age, we choose to study mother-child reunions following a separation episode when infants
were one-year old child. In our scenario, a stranger picked up the infant and interacted with
the infant for up to three minutes. Thereafter, the infant was handed back to the mother. We
expected that infants that mothers.
This study compares mother-child reunions micro-analytically in two very diverse
cultural contexts, Western middle-class families in Osnabrueck, Germany and the

Cameroonian Nso farmer families.

Method
Participants
The total sample of this study comprised 48 mothers and their twelve-month old
infants: 23 from middle-class families in Osnabrueck, Germany, 25 from a rural Nso region,
Cameroon; Data were collected in 2005 (rural Cameroonian Nso sample; published by Otto)
and 2008 (the South African middle-class and poverty samples). Two MA students recruited
participants via baby classes in Germany, a local research assistant recruited participants via
health centers and breastfeeding clinics in Cameroon. In order to avoid possible religious
influences, only Christian children in both contexts were chosen. Mothers, and in Cameroon
also the lineage heads, were informed about the goal of the study and asked for their consent.
In Cameroon, all contacted family heads permitted the first author to recruit mothers with
infants of the appropriate age. About twenty-five percent of mothers attending baby classes
agreed to participate in our study. After complete information was given, informed consent
was obtained.
Mothers showed the expected cultural differences in terms of age of first birth, formal
education, marital status, and external childcare (see table 1): Osnabrueck mothers were older
than rural Nso mothers at their first birth and had more years of formal education. More
Osnabrueck mothers were in married relationships than mothers from rural Nso. In terms of
extrafamilial childcare, more infants from rural Nso had external childcare compared to
infants from Osnabrueck, Germany. There were no differences in terms of the gender of the
infants and breastfeeding behaviors.
Procedure
All assessments took place in the family homes. The actual stranger-child interaction
took place at a prearranged day in the afternoon. When the stranger approached the infant, the

presence of their mothers was compulsory; the presence of others was permitted in order to
maintain ecological validity of the situation. In Cameroon, the stranger was usually received
in the courtyard of the family compound; besides mother and child, other siblings and adults
were often present as well. In Germany, the stranger met mother and child inside the family
house and most often nobody else was present. The stranger had the instruction to greet
mother and others present by handshake. Thereupon, the stranger was instructed to pick up
the infant and interact with the infant in a playful manner for three minutes. The stranger was
free to hand the child back to the mother when she thought the child was uncomfortable with
her. The child was handed back to the mother after either a three-minute interaction or before.
The stranger-child interactions and the mother-child reunions were video-recorded by a
research assistant known to mother and child.
Coding
Codes for the mothers behavior are: Body contact (none, light, close, very close),
emotion (negative, neutral, positive), direction of gaze (object/person, child), body
stimulation (none, tactile, rhythmic tactile, kinesthetic, rhythmic kinesthetic, motor, rhythmic
motor), object stimulation (none, play, gives), pointing, nursing, verbalization (none,
other, child), proximity (none, increasing), distance (none, increasing). Codes for the
childs behavior are: Emotion (negative, neutral, positive), direction of gaze (eyes closed,
object/person, stranger, mother), proximity (none, increasing), distance (none, increasing).
Codes for the strangers behaviors are: presence, verbalization (none, mother, child),
tactile behavior (none, child), object stimulation (none, play, gives). The codes are shown in
table 2.
Inter-rater Agreement
Data Analysis.
Results

The separation episode


Mean length, emotions,
The mother-child reunion
Mean length, emotions, behaviors,
Factors influencing the reunion behaviors
Discussion

References

Tables
Table 1
Socio-demographic data

Osnabrueck,
Germany

Rural Nso,
Cameroon

23

25
2

Gender of
infants
(% of females)

52

47.8

.083

.773

Mothers
martial status
(% of married)

100

56

13.129***
(O > N)

.001

Extrafamilial
childcare
(% of yes)

30.4

100

23.087***
(N > O)

.000

Breastfeeding
(% of yes)

95.7

88

.918

.338

M
(SD)

M
(SD)

F-statistics
df = 1, 46

Mothers age
at first birth

29.87
(5.54)

20.04
(3.37)

5.215***
(O > N)

Mothers
years of
formal
education

15.35
(3.23)

8.16
(2.04)

18.65***
(O > N)

Note. Cross-tables and Levenes F-test.


a
Significant pair comparisons are in parentheses. O = Osnabrueck N = rural Nso.
*p < .05; ***p < .001.

Table 2
Codes
Parenting systems and maternal behaviors
I.

II.

III.

IV.

Parenting Behaviors
1.
Emotion of the mother
2.

Direction of gaze

3.

Body contact

4.

Pointing

5.
6.

Nursing
Verbalization

7.

Proximity

8.

Distance

Child Behaviors
1.
Emotion of the child
2.

Direction of gaze

3.
4.

Proximity
Distance

Body Stimulation
5.
No body stimulation
6.
Tactile
7.
8.

Rhythmic tactile
Kinesthetic

9.

Rhythmic kinesthetic

10.

Motor

11.

Rhythmic motor

Object Stimulation
1.
No object stimulation
2.
Playing
3.

Giving

Descriptions
The mother is exhibiting a neutral,
positive, or negative disposition.
The mother is looking at the child, at an
object, or at another person.
The baby is held lightly closely, closely,
very closely, or not at all.
The mother is pointing at something to
direct the attention of the infant.
The mother is engaged in nursing the child.
The mother makes a vocalization directed at
the child or to another person.
The mother is moving physically closer to
the infant.
The mother is moving away from the infant.
The child is exhibiting a neutral, positive, or
negative disposition.
The child may have his/her eyes closed, or
may be looking at an object, the stranger, or
the mother.
The child is moving closer to the mother.
The child is moving away from the mother.
No body stimulation is in the interaction.
The mother touches or caresses the baby
without moving the infants body.
The tactile behavior is strong and repeated.
The infants entire body is moved by
partially or drastically changing its position
in space.
The kinesthetic behavior is strong and
repeated; for example, rocking.
The mother moves certain parts of the babies
without moving the entire body.
The motor behavior is strong and repeated.
No object stimulation is in the interaction.
The mother uses the object to play with the
infant.

The mother gives the object to the infant.


Parenting systems and maternal behaviors
V.

Stranger Behaviors
12.
Presence
13.
Verbalization
14.

Object stimulation

15.

Tactile behaviors

Descriptions
There is a stranger within reach of the baby.
The stranger makes a vocalization directed
at the mother or to the child.
The stranger gives an object to the infant or
plays with him/her.
The stranger engages in tactile behaviors
with the child.

Body Contact Behaviors - Mean Percentages of Time Intervals, Standard


Deviations, and Summary of Statistics.
Osnabrueck,
Germany

Rural Nso,
Cameroon

23

25

M
(SD)

M
(SD)

F-statistics
d = 1, 46

Body Contact
(None)

33.53
(37.13)

0.00
(0.00)

116.36***
(O > N)

.000

Body Contact
(Light)

23.86
(25.277)

2.04
(2.306)

45.605***
(O > N)

.000

Body Contact
(Close)

32.27
(32.376)

72.00
(31.927)

0.144

.706

Body Contact
(Very Close)

10.24
(17.875)

25.87
(32.279)

8.956***
(N > O)

.004

Nso
Osnabrueck