Attachment

Neonates are prepared by evolution to respond to faces. They will look at a drawing that has an outline of facial features and not to a drawing in which the same abstracted features of two eyes, nose, and mouth are randomly placed. From their experience in utero, with the sound of her voice heard externally and vibrating internally, her smell, and rhythms, neonates are prepared to respond differentially to their biological mother’s whole being. Infants experience their mothers not as bits and pieces of stimuli - a sound plus a sight that they have to put together laboriously - but as an integrated whole (Stern’s cross-model sensory experience, 1985). The nature of this integrated whole is interactional: that is, mother the speaker (her articulating face, her vocalizations, her movements, and her affect) forms a category - a narrative that is coordinated with the infant’s responses, vocalizations, affect, movements, and mimicry (Lichtenberg, 1989b). The same innate responsiveness that creates this early experience of attachment (bonding) with the biological mother enables infants to form a similar differential response to any persistent maternal caregiver (maternal in function, not necessarily in gender). The affective quality that solidifies the path to attachment is being and feeling safe in the hands of a caring other (Winnicott’s holding environment, 1965). The emotion-laden sense that “I am safe with you” plus the affects and sensual feelings stirred by mirroring affirmations become integrated as a nonverbal imagistic story of her and my face, her and my sounds, her and my touch, her and my body, her and my rhythms, and, by three months, her and my smile.

Communication From the first cry to the calming of distress in a feeding to the folding into the receptive arms of a caregiver, neonates and mothers convey information that each requires to be optimally responsive to the other. The caregiver’s success in picking up and responding to the nonverbal narratives of the infant’s needs and intentions facilitates the formation and functioning of the attachment, sensual, aversive, and exploratory motivational systems. Verbal communication - major achievements for all humans - is not necessary to form and tell a story to oneself and others. Dogs are wonderful communicators of their stories “I love you,” “Take me out,” “I’m angry or hurt,” “I do (or don’t) want to be with you”: all this told by body movement, bark, head gesture, eye movement, and focus. And dogs understand the meanings of human verbal communication about both emotions and intentions. So dogs and infants do not need words to form and tell stories of I like, I don’t like, I want, I don’t want, I look toward, I look away. Infants can and do form images that tell meaningful stories to themselves and others - as do humans all their lives in dreams, mind wandering, reveries, fantasies, and artistic creations. But without words human life, as with people with mutism, is barren in relatedness and communication both with others and to oneself. Humans evolved language, and especially conversational language, to bind people in groups enabling the enjoyment of commonality and kinship. “Motherese,” with its musical higher pitch, begins at birth as a caregiver’s engaging chatter to her baby.

Each language has its own basic elements of speech, pronunciation, and musicality: its vowels, glides, timbre, and pitch contours; its pre-voice and delayed voice onset time; its timing cued to turn taking and opening to response. Infants who are read to while in utero from a Dr. Seuss book evidence recognition of the sound pattern after birth (DeCasper and Fifer,

1980). Recognition only occurs for the particular Seuss book read to them. This means that by birth, infants can distinguish phonological contrasts. Normal infants are innately responsive to any language or languages they hear daily. This responsiveness applies to any language humans have created anywhere in the world. The universal responsiveness to any known language does not last. At 12 months and after, infants can no longer automatically pick up any language they had not been exposed to. This suggests that infants in the first year are restrictively sensitive to the nuances of languages spoken to and around them by people from whom they are seeking safety, mirroring, and twinship commonality.

When exposed to synthetic sounds that are not found in any human language, six-month-old infants who could detect vowel changes readily in their native language to responded differently: “They could neither differentiate automatically nor be trained to in spite of rewarding” (Lichtenberg, 1989b, p.74; also Eimas et al., 1971). Thus, picking up and responding to speech and the nonverbal early stories it tells is innate. The two experiences - attachment and communication - are intimately entwined and interdependent. Words have no meaning for an infant without face-to-face coordination, sharing of affects, chatter and vocalizing, and all the other early caregiver-baby interactions. All these interactions are experienced holistically rather than as separate happenings. Meaning comes from the arousal of interest by the impact of recognizing and sharing affects, intentions, and a goal. A feeding, a shared look, a burping, a look around the room all involve an affect, an intention, and a purpose. Communication, in the form of maternal commentary and infant babbling and vocalizing, provides an undramatic but indispensable accompaniment to what the two doers are doing with each other. Not until relatively recently have early attachment and communication been recognized as necessary precursors for the older infant to become verbal and conservational (Lichtenberg and Thielst, 2018).

 
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