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American Conceptions of Infant Development

from 1955 to 1984: What the Experts Are
Telling Parents

Kathiyn T. Young
Yale University

YOUNG, KATHRYN T. American Conceptions of Infant Development from 1955 to 1984: What the
Experts Are Telling Parents. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 1990, 61, 17-28. The efforts of the cbild
development movement to understand development and tbe factors influencing it bave been (he
basis of 2 inteirelated tasks: tbe scientific study of children, and tbe dissemination of this knowledge
to parents. Content analysis is used to assess the extent to which psychological theories and research
about in&nts have been cociununioatod to parents &om 19S5 to 1984 in 2 popular pubUcations, the
Infant Care manual and Parents magazine. Results indicated that there is not a singular relation
between what experts know and what is communicated to parents. Information reflecting scientific
advances about the biological components of infant development (perception, cognition, and tem-
perament) have been most accurately communicated to parents, whereas discussions of tbe mother-
infant relationship, child care, feeding, and fathers appeared to be related to the broader cultural
context and demographic changes over tbe past thirty years. This study reveals an interaction
between science and culture in our theories of infant development and child rearing.

From the day an infant is bom, parents transmission of this new knowledge to those
construct and elaborate their beliefs about responsible for children (Sears, 1975; Senn,
what they regard to be important components 1975).
of the infent's development and care. New
parents, especially new mothers, periodically Prescriptive books and magazines carried
feel they need guidance on how to raise their * teachings of experts to homes across the
infants. In the United States, this need has country. Two such publications were the In-
evolved into a sustained alliance between ex- /''"* ^'^^ manual and Parents magazine. In
perts and parents in which pediatricians, psy- 1^14, the Children's Bureau began publish-
chologists, educators, and child developmen- ^n H^^* Care. This pamphlet informed new
talists have assumed the role of counsel to Parents not only about physical care but also
parents (Clarke-Stewart, 1984; Zigler & Cas- ^^^^^ * development and nurturance of in-
cione 1982) fonts. Parents magazine emerged in the midst
of the parent education movement of tiie
This alliance began toward the end of the 1920s and was financed by the Laura Spel-
nineteenth century, when women's maga- man Rockefeller Foundation. In sum, these
zines responded by publishing advice for publications have been committed to having
mothers on child-rearing topics (Sears, Mac- experts in the field write about infant devel-
coby, & Levin, 1957). It continued into the opment in a popular manner,
early twentieth century, as the child develop-
ment movement declared that one of its ob- The purpose of this article is to review
jectives was to "make this a better world the Infant Care manual and Parents maga-
through developing better people" (Stolz, zine firom 1955 through 1984 in order to un-
1985). The need to understand development derstand what experts have communicated to
quickly became the basis for two interrelated parents about infant development and care
tasks: the scientific study of children, and the over this 30-year period. These child-care

Tbe audior wishes to thank William Kessen and Robert Hodapp for tbeir guidance throughout
all phases of this paper. The editorial comments of Leslie Brandon and J. Cerald Young and die
assistance of Sue Levey with data analysis were greatly appreciated. Requests for reprints should be
sent to Kathryn T. Young, Department of Psychology, Box llA Yale Station, Yale University, New
Haven, CT 06520.
[Child Development, 1990. 61, 17-28. 1990 by the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
All rights reserved. 0009-392(V90/6101-0006S01.001
18 Child Development
publications were chosen for two reasons: (1) 1951 edition, psychoanalytically oriented
their sustained history of communicating child rearing appeared, with an emphasis on
what the field knows to parents, and (2) their parental nurturance and infant malleability.
wide readership. Thus, it is evident that since the early part of
the twentieth century, beliefs and practices
In contrast to the expressed presupposi- about infants and their upbringing have been
tion of the child development movement, it is influenced by developments in psychological
hypothesized that there has not been a singu- research and theory.
lar relation between what experts know and
what is communicated to parents. Rather, the Since the Stendler and Wolfenstein sur-
relations are complex, and the field of child veys, there has been no systematic analysis of
development is also affected by both culture trends about infant development and care in
and context (Kessen, 1979; Wertsch & You- the parent literataire. Furthermore, the past 30
nlss, 1987). More specifically, Kagan and his years have been witness to enormous scien-
colleagues (Kagan, Kearsley, & Zeiazo, 19^) tific advances in our understanding of the in-
have proposed that psychological theory and fant (Kagan, 1979; Kessen, Haith, & Satapa-
research have been influenced repeatedly by tek, 1970; Mussen, 1983; Osofsky, 1^7) and
four notions that reflect our culture's ideology dramatic changes in the structure and func-
of development: the influence of early experi- tioning of die American femily. Currently,
ence on later development, the continuity of less tban W% of femily units fit the conven-
development, the centrajity of the mc^er- tional definition of a two-parent, two-child
infant relationship, and the primacy of the unit with die fether as exclusive w&ge earner
family as the structural unit in a nurturing (Eiduson, 1983); since 1950 the number of
society. Thus, recognizing the dual roles of mothers of small children in the work force
knowledge and culture in the field of child has increased by 33% (U.S. Department of
development, the intent of this study is to Labor, 1975, 1983); and infant day-care is the
identify the extent that both psychological re- festest growing type of supplemental care
search and cultural beliefs about infants have (Jones & Prescott, 1982). There is also evi-
been part of the parent literature. dence that the roles of fethers are changing, as
fetiiers move from being more aloof and dis-
Periodically the parent literature has tant to participating in a full range of parent-
been reviewed to document the diffusion of ing behaviors (Fein, 1978).
psychological theory and research into our
culture. In 1950, Stendler reviewed every is- This survey will continue the line of in-
sue of three women's magazines for the first vestigatiiMi begun with Stendler and Wolfen-
year in each decade from 1890 to 1948. Over stein by analyzing the types of information
this 60-year period, the audior found evi- experts have commtinicated to parents about
dence for three well-defined orientations to infents during the 30-year period from 1955 to
the care of infents: tum-of-the-century Victo- 1984. Specifk^ly, this survey of the Infant
rian moralism, the 1920s and the American Care manual and Parents magazine will ad-
belief in John Watson and the principles of dress the following hypotheses;
behaviorism, and the popularization of Freud
and psychoanalytic concepts of child <kvelop- Hypothesis 1.What experts have com-
ment in the 1930s and 1940s. Each of these munk^ted to parents reflects the complex re-
orientations clearly can be associated with lation between science and culture for those
three distinct cultural-psychological perspec- domains that are more value-laden, such as
tives. die mother-in^t relationship, fathers, or
feeding practices. This trend parallels an ear-
At about the same time as the Stendler lier reUtUon between science and culture as
(1950) survey, Martha Wolfenstein (1^5) ana- notsd by Stendler and Wolfeiwtein. The re-
lyzed the patterns in infant care as presented suit is that cultural beliefs wad changing social
from 1914 to 1951 in the Infant Care msmual. realities are reflected in what is communi-
The early editions, strongly influenced by cated to parents.
Victorian notions of moral devotion and self-
denial, stressed impulse control and the Hypothesis 2.What experts have com-
avoidance of autoerotic practices. The empha- municated to parents more cletu-ly reflects ad-
sis shifted dramatically in the 1930s to reflect vances in scientific knowledge in diose do-
the dominant influence of Watson and Ameri- mains that are more biolc^cal in nature,
can behaviorism. The primary struggle was domains sudi as infent perception, cognition,
between infants and their parents, as pwents and language development. Such advances in
were advised to use the correct techniques scientific knowledge in biological areas could
and routines in raising their infants. In the not have been seen in either the Stendler or
Kathryn T. Young 19
Wolfenstein reviews, as major advances in North, 1972, 1980); these four edidons were
our knowledge about infant development did subjected to themadc content analysis.
not occur until the 1960s. Two limitadons need to be addressed in
the selection of these two publications. First,
Method the publicadons are directed to different audi-
PARENT PUBLICATIONS ences. The Infant Care manual has been
aimed at a very large audience; it is a govern-
Parents Magazine ment-sponsored, brief brochure with a great
From its inception Parents magazine has deal of information in a few pages. Commer-
had official ties with the institutes of child cial success has never been a prime reason for
development founded by the Laura Spellman publicadon of Infant Care. Parents magazine
Rockefeller Memorial (Schlossman, 1986; has been and remains a middle-class publica-
Stevenson & Siegel, 1984). In the 192O's the don, aimed at parents who have dme to read
LSRM agreed to invest heavily in the field of on a regular basis. Therefore, it is possible
child development in two ways. First, they that the two publicadons would convey
supported scientific research on children at slighdy different informadon and display dif-
child development institutes at Columbia, ferent emphases.
Iowa, and Yale Universides. Second, the
LSRM believed in the broader social move- Second, in conceptualizing this study,
ment of parent education and thus supported the decision was made not to include the
the founding of Parents magazine. Parents enormous numbers of books about infant
magazine continues to have a wide variety of development and child care. However, his-
recognized clinicians and scholars in the field torically Parents magazine has included the
of child development contribute articles and works of clinicians and researchers in infancy
consult with staff writers. that were first published in books (e.g., Spock,
Vol. 33, No. 5; Brazelton, Vol. 39, No. 4 and
Historically, Parents magazine has had a Vol. 53, No. 3; Kagan, Vol. 50, No. 2 and Vol.
wide readership (Schlossman, 1985). Cur- 55, No. 11). Thus, although this analysis is not
rendy, of the 4.2 million U.S. mothers with all-inclusive, it does sample expert advice in a
children under 1 year, 34.6% read Parents systemadc manner.
magazine, whereas 23.7% read American
Baby (Magazine Audience Report, 1988). A
recent study of 255 middle- and upper- PROCEDURE
middle-class parents of infants indicated that Topical Content Analysis^
64% read Parents magazine (Young, 1988). In Subjects.All issues of Parents maga-
addition. Parents magazine devotes 39.4% of zine from 1955 through 1984 (12 issues a year,
its content to articles about children, whereas or 360 issues) were reviewed by the audior to
a general women's magazine such as Redbook determine the articles written about infants.
devotes only 4.7% (Hall's Magazine Reports,
1987). Articles in Parents magazine were sub- Categories.Preliminary reading of Por-
jected to both topical content and thematic ents magazine generated the categories for
content analyses (see below). the topical content analysis. Topical content
analysis is a quandtadve procedure to mea-
Infant Care Manual sure the number of dmes identified topics are
Since the Children's Bureau began print- presented in written material (Holsd, 1969).
ing Infant Care in 1914, the manual has been The 16 categories for the topical analysis fell
written by pediatricians and other specialists within two broad domains: (1) articles that
in growth and development with the ex- communicated information related to psy-
pressed purpose "to serve as a handy guide chological theory and research, and (2) arti-
for parents who want to be sure their child cles that were medically oriented or focused
has a good start in life" (Reed, 1981). The on the pracdcal concerns of caring for a
manual has been distributed at no charge to baby. Categories for the psychological do-
new parents; to date more than 60 million main were: cognition, percepdon, feeding,
copies have been distributed (Reed, 1981). mother-infant reladonship, developmental
Infant Care also was chosen to provide a con- milestones, infant communicadon, tempera-
tinuation of the Wolfenstein (1955) analysis of ment, fun morality (i.e., enjoy baby), baby as
Infant Care from 1914 to 1951. During the teacher, fathers, and working mothers. Cate-
past 30 years. Infant Care has been published gories for the medically oriented or pracdcal
four times (Dittman, 1963; Faegre, 1955; domain were medical illness articles, new-

^ The code book and data for Figures 1-3 are available from the autihor.
20 ChUd Development
b<Ti care, articles written by parents, ques- that mothers of infants can work, and out-of-
don-answer column written by a pediatrician, home group child care is endorsed.
and miscellaneous. Fathers: (5) fathers are to be involved but
Analysis and reliability.Topical con- not to share equally in the care of the baby;
tent analysis was used to determine the fre- (6) fethers are equally capable as mother to
quency of ardcles about infents presented in care for the baby.
Parents magazine from 1955 through 1984. Feeding: (7) breast feeding is best and
Most of the articles went into only one cat- influences later personality development; (8)
egory; however, for the few articles that a baby will thrive on eidier breast or botde as
discussed more dian one topic, coding into long as the mother feels content about it.
muld;i^e categories was done to minimize
possible distordon (Holsti, 1969). The author Percepdon-cognidon: (9) baby is acdve
read and recorded the content of each article and seeks stimulation and learning; (10) arti-
into the appropriate category. One indepen- cle presents informadon about infent percep-
dent rater and the audior read and coded the tual abilities; (11) a baby is helj^dess Mid does
ardcles in four selected issues a year (N = not do much the first months of life; (12) role
120) for the purpose of detennining reliabil- of the parent is to provide sdmuladon wid
ity. In order to minimize systemadc bias as- learning experiences for die baby.
sociated with seasonal VEuiadon in the top-
ics presented, one issue from each of the Temperament: (13) concept of individual
four quarters of the year (January, February, differences is presented in general terms; (14)
March; April, May, June; July, August, Sep- work of Chess and Thomas is presented.
tember; October, November, December) was Infant communication: (15) parents play a
selected. For instance, in 1955, the January, role in laxigaage Eu^uisidon; (1) the infant's
April, July, and October issues were re- innate abilides play a role in language acqui-
viewed, in 1956 the February, May, August, sition.
and November issues were reviewed, and so
on t h r o u ^ 1984. Beliability was computed as Cenend themes: (17) parents play an es-
the totel number of agreements over the pos- sential role in guiding an infent's envelop-
sible number of agreements. This method ment; (18) early experiences influence later
was used to compute reliability both within development; and (19) an infimt is to be en-
each cat^ory and across categories. The over- joyed.
all reliability for topical analysis was .93, with Analysis and reliability.Themadc con-
reliabilides for each category ranging ^m .83 tent analysis is a quandtative procedure to de-
to 1.00. termine the nature and tone of die content in
written material (Holsd, 1969). Each of se-
Thematic Content Analysis lected Parents m^azine issues (N = 120) was
Streets.Four issues a year (N = 120) read by the author to determine the presence
of Parents nu^azine were selected and ard- of identffled themes; the unit of andiysis was
cles about infents were read for the themadc the ardcle. Each edidon of Infant Care was
content analysis. The same selecdon mediod read and coded by subheaded secdons of the
as described above was used to minimize sys- text. Subheaded secdons were chosen as the
temadc seasortal bias with articles. All edi- unit of analysis because it seemed most com-
dons of Infant Care published from 1955 parable to the use of articles with Parents
dirough 1984 (i.e., 1955, 1963, 1972, and magazine. One inifependent rater and the au-
were read for the themadc analysis. thor read both the Infant Care manuals and
the 120 issues of Parents magazine axticles for
Categories.Nineteen themes within purjwses of detenniniog reliability. The over-
e i ^ t domains were selected for themadc con- all themadc relisA^ity for Parents nu^azine
tent anfdysis: was .91, with in^vidual themadc reliabilides
Mother-infJMit reladonship: (1) maternal ranging from .SOto1.00. For the Infant Care
pracdces are at the center of influencing an manual, die overall themadc reliability was
infent's development; (2) quality of mother- .89; individual themertic reliabilities range
infent interacdons during the first years are an from .83 to LOO.
important component of an infant's develop-
ment. Results
Working mothers and child care: (3) in- TOPICAL CONTENT ANALYSIS
fant needs a fuU-dme mother fbr opdmal de-
velopment, and use of subsdtute care should Preliminary analyses revealed that Par-
be informal; (4) article supports the nodon ents mag^ine published 443 ardcles about
Kathryn T. Young 21

S 1M5-1B74

FIG. 1.Topical content analysis of Parents magazine from 1955 through 1984. (Analyses are limited
to child development hours.)

infents during the period 1955 through 1984. perts communicate to parents reflects an in-
Using the topical categories established for teraction of knowledge, sociohistorical con-
this study, 47% of the ardcles presented infor- text, and cultural values. This occurred in
mation about infant development that re- ardcles about the mother-infant reladonship,
flected child development theory and re- working mothers and child care, feeding, and
search. Fifty-three percent of the ardcles fethers. This was also evident when experts
presented informadon about medical or prac- discussed the three general themes: parents
dcal concerns about infant care. Civen the play an essendal role, early experience influ-
purpose of this ardcle, to assess the transmis- ences later development, and enjoy the in-
sion of child development knowledge to par- fent.
ents, the medical and pracdcal categories
were dropped from all subsequent content Mother-infant relationship.The nature
analyses. Figure 1 reveals the results of the of what experts told mothers about their rela-
topical content analysis for those ardcles re- donship with the infant changed during this
lated to child development topics. This figure period in both Parents magazine and the In-
displays the percentage of ardcles by topic fant Care manual (see Figs. 2 and 3). From
published within each decade. The greatest the mid 1950s undl the early 1970s, Parents
amount of change during the period 1955 magazine and the Infant Care manual em-
through 1984 appeared to occur with an in- phasized the centrality of the maternal role in
crease in the percentage of ardcles on the the healthy development of the infant. Typi-
mother-infent relationship and infent cogni- cal statements included "the role of the
don; the largest decrease occurred with the mother is the creadon of a well-funcdoning
percentage of ardcles on infant feeding. The human being" (Parents, 1964, Vol. 39, No. 5)
least amount of change occurred in the per- and "he is happy and secure because of your
centage of ardcles about infant communica- care" (Infant Care, 1955, p. 54).
don and fathers.
In contrast, by the 1970s experts in Par-
ents magazine were advising mothers that the
THEMATIC CONTENT ANALYSIS quality of the mother-infant interacdons plays
Figure 2 displays the findings of the the- an important but not exclusive role in the
madc analysis of Parents magazine and Fig- subsequent emodonal health of their infent
ure 3 displays the results for the Infant Care (1970, Vol. 45, No. 8; 1984, Vol. 59, No. 11).
manual. The results are organizecf into two Similarly, in the 1972 and 1980 edidons of
major secdons based on the hypotheses con- Infant Care, many fewer references were
cerning culture-based and sciendfic-based do- made to the importance of the mother-infant
mains of informadon. reladonship. The strongest statements that ex-
perts made reflected the nodon that mothers
Parent Information That Reflects an should be affectionate and nurturing with
Interaction between Knowledge and dieir infent (1972, p. ii; 1980, p. 18).
The themadc content analysis supports Working mothers and child care.The
die hypothesis that in some domains what ex- changes in how Parents magazine and In-
T ' ' "^ ' 1
6 % t e


iTin TTT^**!



iiiifiBiri T?iii)iiaiiiiffli TipBwiiiiiiiiferaaB^jKiffigtNi^^

19S5 19B0 1970 1975


FIG. 2.Thematic content analysis of Parents magazine from 1955 through 1984. Each dash
represents one article that discusses the specified theme.



Moher Can Work



Roto 01 parent




Enjoy inlant

1955 1963 1972 19B0

Yeaf Df Ediiion

FIG. 3.Thematic content analysis of the Infant Care manual from 1955tfirough1984. Each dash (-
represents one subhead section of text that discusses the specified theme.
Kathryn T. Young 23
fant Care presented information on mothers, in the baby's care from the beginning (1972,
work, and child care with infants reflected Vol. 47, No. 4). By 1984, new parents were
the larger demographic and sociohistorical told that fathers could share in the role of pri-
changes of the past 30 years. In the 1950s and mary caretaker, for the father's unique role
1960s both publicadons portrayed the moth- was important to the healthy development of
er's flill-dme role as caretaker for the infant. die infent (1984, Vol. 59, No. 10).
Parents magazine presented mothers with
statements such as "most mothers are aware Themadc analysis of the Infant Care
that a baby needs his mother as vitally as he manuals revealed that the presentadon of in-
needs food and aii" (1960, Vol. 35, No. 11, p. formadon of the father's role in the infant's
59). The 1955 and 1963 edidons of die Infant development was given litde attendon. Infor-
Care manual suggested that if a mother "had madon presented the nodon of the father be-
to work," the infant should be cared for in the ing supportive of and helping the mother
home; out-of-home child care was depicted as when possible.
"boarding your baby away from home" (1955, Feeding practices.Themadc analyses
p. 68). revealed that in the 1950s both publications
The possibility that a mother of an infant emphasized the importance of breast feeding
would work was addressed only briefly in a and its associadon to subsequent personality
1971 Parents magazine ardcle (Vol. 46, No. development. Mothers were teld that "breast
12). It was not until the 1980s that Parents feeding is the natural way to feed a baby"
began to consistendy publish ardcles about (Infant Carey 1955, p. 11) and that the in&nt's
working mothers and out-of-home child care "most meaningful contact is through nurs-
for infiuits. Experts reassured mothers that an ing," for "his mother's breast is the center of
infant did not need a condnuous maternal his emotional life" {Parents, 1956, Vol. 31,
presence and offered advice about selecdng No. 2). During the 1960s and 1970s diis posi-
family- or center-based child care (1980, Vol. don was modified as experts advised mothers
55, No. 3; 1982, Vol. 57, No. 4; 1974, Vol. 59, that eidier method of feeding would work.
No. 11). Similarly, die 1972 and 1980 edidons Both publicadons stressed that it was the
of Infant Care presented a checklist for judg- mother's sensidvity to the infont during the
ing family or center-based child care with feeding rather than the type of milk that in-
such items as "Is there at least one person to fluenced the infant's well-being {Parents,
care for each four or five children?" (1980, p. 1972, Vol. 47, No. 6; Infant Care, 1963, p. 18).
Despite the overall attempts of both pub-
At the same dme that experts were giving licadons to present a more balanced perspec-
mothers with infants advice about working dve in regard to infant feeding, the themadc
and child care, the thematic analysis idend- content analyses revealed the recent prefer-
fied that experts also told mothers that staying ence for breast feeding. This preference oc-
at home "can be a great human experience" curred despite the lack of evidence to support
(Parents, 1984, Vol. 59, No. 11) and discour- any physiological or emodonal advantages as-
aged the use of child-care centers with the sociated with breast feeding (Caldwell, 1964;
following statements; "Good child care is al- Schaffer & Emerson, 1964; see also Ferguson,
ways expensive, and poor child care causes a Harwood, & Shannon, 1987; Forsyth, Leven-
great deal of trouble and worry for the mother dial, & McCarthy, 1985). In the 1980s, Infant
and can be dangerous for the baby" (Infant Care told mothers that breast feeding is "the
Care, 1980, p. 54). natural way" and that "unless you have strong
feelings against breast feeding you should
Fathers.Although the topical content plan to nurse your baby" (1980, p. 2). Parents
analysis for Parents magazine revealed very magazine also encouraged mothers to breast
litde change in the percentage of ardcles feed, cidng not only the physiological bene-
about fathers and infants (see Fig. 1), the the- fits (1970, Vol. 45, No. 2), but also die emo-
madc content analysis indicated there were donal advantage of facilitadng the process of
qualitadve changes in the manner in which attachment between mother and infant (1982,
experts presented the role of fathers in an in- Vol. 57, No. 3; 1984, Vol. 59, No. 5).
fant's development. During the 1950s and
1960s mothers were encouraged to include fa- General themes.Figures 2 and 3 reveal
thers in the care of the baby but not to expect the strong emphasis within both publicadons
fathers to share equally in the care of the in- on the related nodons of the central role par-
fant (1957, Vol. 32, No. 3; 1968, Vol. 43, No. ents have in guiding infant development, the
6). However, by 1972 experts were suggesting belief that early experience influences later
that fathers, along with mothers, be involved development, and the importance of enjoying
24 ChUd Development
the infant. Not only were parents told repeat- The themadc analysis revealed that the
edly that they play a ]ai:ge role in shaping Infant Care manual was more limited in its
their baby's world, but they were also in- presentadon of infant peceptual and cognitive
formed that the in&nt's early experiences are abilides, althou^ die amount of detail in diis
influential in helping him develop a sense of area of development increased over dme. In
trust in the world (Parents, 1957, Vol. 32, No. 1955, parents were told that the newbom was
3; 1970, Vol. 45, No. 8; 1984, Vol. 59, No. 4; "more passive than acdve" (p. 5) and that the
Infant Care, 1955, p. 1; 1963, p. 2; 1972, p. 16; infant has an "awakening memory" at about 6
1980, p. 18). In addidon, experts wridng for months of age (p. 51). Concurrendy, however,
both publicadons condnued to reinforce the parents were told diat the infant became more
belief that enjoying die infent would not spoil acdve and grew in his ability to learn and
him but rather would foster his emotiona} understand. In tfce 1963 edition, parents were
growdi {Parents, 1956, Vol. 31, No. 2; 1977, given current knowledge about general per-
Vol. 52, No. 11; Infant Care, 1963, p. 1; 1972 ceptual abilities: infants could taste, smell, re-
& 1980, p. 18). In sum, these general themes spond to loud noises, and follow a l i ^ t in
were consistently presented te parents in nu- somewhat of an irregular fashion. More re-
merous ardcles and across various topics. cendy, in both the 1972 and 1980 edidons,
parents were told that infants le^Ti about
Parent Information That Reflects Current themselves and the world around them as
Scientific Knowledge they play widi their hands, look with their
The results of themadc content analysis eyes, and move dieir whole bodies.
revealed that the informadon experts commu-
nicated to parents reflected advances in scien- At the same time as they emjAasized an
dfic knowledge in areas of infant percepdon, acdve infent, both publicadons repeatedly
cognidon, and temperament; this did not oc- stressed the importemce of the parental role in
cur for the infonnadon parents received about providing sdmuladon in helping ^e infent
language development (see Figs. 2 and 3). learn. Parents were ^vised to let the infant
Perception-cognition.As researchers be- manipulate objects in the environment, put
^ n to understand more about infent percep- mobiles in the crib, talk to the infant, and play
tual abilides, the findings were consistently interacdve games (e.g., pat-a-cake, peek-a-
communicated in Parents magazine. In the boo) widi the infant. Experts stated that re-
late 1950s, parents were told that infants search indicated babies learn most by doing
could perceive light and color (1957, Vol. 32, something with a person or object that re-
No. 2); by the early 1960s, parents were told sponds to them rather than by stimuladon
that a newbom could follow an object with programs that use flash card techniques (Par-
his eyes and was sensidve te ioud noises ents magazine, Vol. 58, No. 11).
(1963, Vol. 38, No. 9). Experts in die 1970s
began to tell parents that infants could dis- Temperament.Themadc content an^y-
criminate degrees of brightness, and that in- ses revealed that in both publicadons discus-
fants prefigrred looking at people rather than sions of infent temperament mirrored the sci-
objects (1975, Vol. 50, No. 2). Most recendy, endfic advances of the field. In the 19Ms,
parents were told about the infent's ability to Infant Care stated diat "each baby is differ-
track objects, discriminate patterns, and m ^ e ent" (1955, p. 3) and Parents m^;azine was
associadons between events and visual clues informing new parents that each baby comes
(1980, Vol. 55, No. 1; 1984, Vol. 59, No. 2). into diis world with "ways all of his own"
(1958, Vol. 33, No. 11). By die early 1960s the
With the excepdon of one reference in seminal work of Chess and Thomas was being
1963 to infents as helpless. Parents magazine transmitted to parents. The 1963 edidon of"
consistendy presented parents with the no- Infant Care used die term "tempersanent"
don of an acdve, thinking infent. Experts told when discussing differences among infimts;
parents that the infiant has strong intemsJ abil- in the 1972 and 1980 edidons experts pre-
ides that drive his cognidve development sented parents widi detailed informadon
(1971, Vol. 46, No. 4; 1974, Vol 49, No, 7; about temperamental styles. In 1964, Parents
1981, Vol. 56, No. 8; 1984, Vol. 59, No. 10). magazine published an ardcle presendng
Piaget's work was being transmitted into die nine individual styles of infent behavior
popular literature: parents were told that the (1964, Vol. 39, No. 11). From die 1970s undl
"baby is conducdng experiments on objects 1984, Parents emph^^ized the posidon of
in the environment in which he puts parts Chess and Thomas: reassuring parents that
into whole, objects into categories, and differences between easy and difficult babies
emerges with a fairly coherent picture of the were due to differing physiolo^cal and psy-
world" (1959, Vol. 34, No. 2). chological systems and not maternal style
Kathryn T. Young 25
(1973, Vol. 48, No. 7; 1977, Vol. 52, No. 6; In addidon, this trend was present in the gen-
1984, Vol. 59, No. 2). eral themes as parents were told to enjoy their
Infant communication.Findings of the infant and that they and the experiences they
themadc analyses indicated that from 1955 provided were important to the infant's devel-
through 1984 both publicadons presented opment.
only a pardal picture of language develop- Although this study provides evidence
ment. Specifically, neither Parents nor Infant that sciendfic research about infant develop-
Care accurately presented the role of innate ment has been communicated to parents, the
abilides; instead both publicadons almost ex- fact remains that the informadon is oriented
clusively presented the role of environmental toward what parents can or should do to en-
fectors in language development (see Figs. 2 courage the infant's development. The most
and 3). Overall, the emphasis was one of pa- striking example of this orientation has been
rental sdmuladon and infent imitadon as ex- in the way language development was com-
perts advised parents to respond to and talk municated to parents as solely a parental ac-
with their infant (Infant Care, 1955, p. 52; dvity. Although researchers have recognized
1963, pp. 40-41; Parents, 1959, Vol. 34, No. 8; the contribudons of both nature and nurture
1969, Vol. 44, No. 2; 1979, Vol. 54, No. 4). to language acquisidon, the thematic analyses
Thus, this domain differed from the other revealed that neither publicadon communi-
sciendfic-based domains in presendng only a cated to parents the importance of the infant's
pardal picture of what was known about in- innate capacides or the role of pragmadcs and
fant language development. semandcs in language development. The em-
phasis was solely one of parental sdmuladon
Discussion and imitadon of the infant. In sum, the impor-
tance of early experiences within a nurturing
As Sears (1975) and Senn (1975) stated in family was the focus of the advice in these
their histories of the child development two publicadons, reflecdng cultural notions of
movement, the hope of the field was that by development.
informing parents about what experts know
concerning a child's development, the experi- In a similar manner, the parental role was
ences of children would ultimately change. emphasized as psychologists presented infor-
This study has taken the necessary first step madon about the infant's perceptual and cog-
in documendng what experts are communi- nitive abilides. Specifically, Piagedan tasks
cating to parents. employed by psychologists were communi-
cated to parents as acdvides to do with the
Specifically, two trends are noted in what infant. Thus, experts encouraged parents to
experts tell parents. The first trend is re- provide the infant with different-colored ob-
search-driven, as experts have used psycho- jects, to hang a mobile in the crib, to allow the
logical research of the last 30 years as the infant to listen te music, and to allow the in-
basis for the informadon and advice they pre- fant to explore the environment. Experts writ-
sent to parents. These scientific advances ing for Infant Care and Parents also spoke of
have influenced what experts tell parents to more interactive forms of infant sdmuladon
expect of their infant, what he is capable of, such as "pat-a-cake" and "peek-a-boo" games.
and how they should perceive him. The re- This interacdve style of parent-infant game is
sults of the thematic content analysis indicate not only compadble with our cultural beliefs
that research-driven advice is most evident in about the importance of the parental role and
the sciendfic domains that focus on aspects of early experiences but also reflects current
the infent's biological development such as views suggesting that infants learn most by
percepdon, cognidon, and temperament. The doing something with a person or an object
singular excepdon is die presentadon of infor- that responds to them (Lamb, 1981; Sherrod,
madon about language development. 1979; Speike & Cortelyou, 1981).
Equally powerful is a second trend that The topical content analysis documented
in certain areas expert advice is more clearly an increase in the percentage of ardcles about
based on the broader social context and the mother-infant reladonship and mothers,
changing demographics. This trend supports work, and child care (see Fig. 1). In addidon,
Kagan et al.'s (1978) view that psychological the themadc content analyses revealed a
theory and research have been influenced by change in focus from the mid-1950s to the
our culture's ideology of development. It was present: experts stopped giving advice about
pardcularly seen in the domains of the the centrality of the maternal role and began
mother-infent reladonship, working mothers to write about the quality of the interacdons
and child care, feeding pracdces, and fathers. between the mother and infant. This change
26 Child Development
may reflect a redirecdon in psychological re- Zigler, 1986). In sum, the differing opinions
search: as invesdgators were unable to show a can be found in both the sciendfic and parent
consistent reladon between the specifics of literature.
maternal care and subsequent child behaviors
(Caldwell, 1964; Kagan et al., 1978; Sears et As mendoned previously, there has been
al., 1957), the emphasis shifted to reciprocal a renewed questioning widim developmental
models of mother-infent interacdon (Bell, psychology about the degree to which die
1^8; Sameroff, 1975). In sum, the importance work of developmental psychologists is af-
of die mother-infent relationship has been a fected by culture and context (Bronfenbren-
central part of what experts communicate to ner, Kessel, Kessen, & White, 1986). Kessen
parents, although tiie specifics of die advice (1979) begMi this quesdoning when he spoke
have changed. of children and child psychology as "cultural
invendons"; more recendy, others have ex-
This study provides support for two sepa- amined the ways that sociohisterical contexts
rate Interpretadons about working mothers are reflected in the work and ideas of psychol-
and group child care. First, the feet diat this ogists (Wertsch & Youniss, 1987). The find-
was a topic in both publicadons is likely the ings of this study support die interacting roles
result of changing demographics and society; of knowledge and culture in child develop-
mothers with infents are increasingly part of ment, especially in the domains of the
the work force and they need advice. Since mother-infent relationship and wos^ng moth-
1975 the percentage of Parents magazine ard- ers and child care. Thus, die cultural and his-
cles devoted to working modiers and child torical contexts in which experts find them-
care for infants has increased markedly (see selves cannot be easily divorced from the
Fig. 1). Concurrendy, since die mid-1970s information and advice they give parents.
this topic has been the focus of a significant
amount of empirical invesdgadon (see Bel- This study has taken the necessary first
sky. 1984, and Camble & Zigler, 1986, for re- step in idendfying exactly what experte are
views). Thus, the fact that group child care communicating te parents. Subsequent work
has become a salient issue in the parent and will need te focus on the complex interrela-
sciendfic literature reflects the current social tions among what experts communicate to
context. parents, what parents know and believe about
infant development, and the impact of this
Second, these findings also provide evi- knowledge on parental pracdces and child
dence for the influence of both culture and development.
knowledge in what was communicated to par-
ents about working mothers and child care. References
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