Still-face and separation effects on depressed mother-infant interactions

Tiffany Field, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Miguel Diego, Larissa Feijo, Yanexy Vera, Karla Gil, Chris Sanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Maternal emotional and physical unavailability have differential effects on infant interaction behavior as noted in a study by Field, Vega-Lahr, Scafidi, and Goldstein (1986). In that study, four-month-old infants experienced their mother's still face and a brief separation from the mother. Spontaneous interactions preceded and followed these to serve as baseline and reunion episodes. Although the infants became more negative and agitated during both conditions, the still face elicited more stressful behaviors. The present study replicated the Field et al. (1986) study but also compared infants of depressed and infants of nondepressed mothers. The infants of depressed versus those of nondepressed mothers were less interactive during the spontaneous interactions, as were their mothers, and they showed less distress behaviors during the still-face condition, During the "return to spontaneous interaction" following the still-face condition, they were also less interactive, as evidenced by fewer positive as well as fewer negative behaviors. Their mothers were also less active. The nondepressed mothers and infants were extremely active, as if trying to reinstate the initial spontaneous interaction. Minimal change occurred during the separation condition except that both groups of infants vocalized less than they had during the spontaneous interaction. During the reunion following the separation period, the infants of depressed versus nondepressed mothers were paradoxically more active, although their mothers continued to be less interactive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-323
Number of pages10
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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