Reactivity and Regulation Development in Early Infancy: Longitudinal and Cross Cultural Comparisons using Arm Restraint in the US and Holland

Date of Completion

January 2011


Psychology, Developmental|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




Within the first year of life, the motor, cognitive, and social gains infants make offer her new ways to manage her environment and regulate her own distress. However, self-regulation is a complex job for the infant and, as with all developmental tasks, is a process that remains difficult for scientists to fully understand. This is in part because infants share some aspects of the developmental journey with all other infants while simultaneously responding individually to unique, culturally-structured caregiving environments. Using a gentle arm restraint at two- and six-months of age in American and Dutch samples, the relationships between distress reactivity, self-soothing, gaze-shifting, and the focus of the infants' visual attention are examined longitudinally for the US samples (n=30 longitudinal pairs) and cross-culturally at 6 months (US n=37, NL n=9). Distress reactivity and regulation behaviors are assessed within the course of the stressful event in several intervals, including the infants' immediate and early responses (0–15s and 16–30s, respectively). All measures are related to the infant's peak distress intensity, and latency to peak distress. Infants are clustered longitudinally and cross-culturally into three groups. Response profiles are examined. Both cluster analysis and examining how behavior changes across a stressful event reveal significantly different profiles of response by age and sample. Results suggest evidence for more than one normative or typical profile of behavioral response at each age and that, by six months of age, American and Dutch infants' distress and regulation behaviors likely reflect cultural differences in caregiving. ^