1. The still-face paradigmThe still-face paradigm is a procedure for observing interactive behaviour in infants aged between a few months and two and a half years(Tronick, 2002; Montirosso et al., 2008). The validity of this procedure has been widely supported in numerous scientific studies (Mesman et al., 2009) and its main aim is to evaluate the infantís socio-emotional behaviour and capacity for emotion regulation, as well as the motherís sensitiveness and responsiveness. It was developed over thirty years ago by Tronick and his colleagues and is structured into three episodes of face-to-face interaction lasting two minutes each (Tronick et al., 1978). In the first episode, known as Play, the mother is asked to interact with her child as she would normally do. In the second, known as Still, she is asked to maintain a neutral, immobile facial expression and to refrain from interacting with the child. Finally, in the third episode, known as Reunion, she has to go back to interacting normally with the child.
The three phases are filmed in order to have simultaneous paired images of the mother and infantís faces, and these are subsequently analysed frame by frame. Generally, in the Still phase, what is known as the still-face effect can be observed: the infant shows discomfort which is expressed through negative emotions, motor agitation or, less frequently, stillness similar to that of the mother. In addition to these behaviours, other significant bodily signs are recorded, including a decrease in glances towards the mother, an increase in visual scanning and in the number of requests to be picked up (Adamson et al., 2003; Toda et al., 1993; Weinberg et al., 1999). Faced with his motherís continued unavailability for interaction, the infant feels forced to employ strategies aimed at self-regulating his negative emotional state resulting from a situation which, in some respects, could be seen as similar to the depressive response of self-absorption that some mothers may manifest (Tronick et al., 1978; Carter et al., 1990).In this sense, the still-face paradigm is an opportunity to evaluate the type of behaviour the infant employs in order to regulate his own emotional state and/or how he tries to re-establish the normal interactive pattern by involving the adult as the external regulator of his emotions. We can often observe, on the part of the infant, self-comforting and self-stimulating gestures such as sucking and manipulating parts of his own body, or even freezing behaviours such as the immobilisation of body language and gestures.
Even though this paradigm is artificial, it nevertheless enables us to have a very real idea of what happens regarding maternal unavailability and regarding the early organisation of methods of self-regulation and interactive regulation, showing the central role of the processes of repair when faced with the fact that the motherís attention, previously mainly oriented towards evaluating the capacity for attunement, is now detached from involvement in real interaction.
2. The role of repair
The still-face paradigm underlines the importance of relational capacity in repairing inevitable errors. It is the experience of the effectiveness of repair after the Still phase which structures the infantís trust in himself and in the relationship.
Repair allows a sense of relational closeness to be created, which enables us to feel known and understood.Next to this trust in himself and through successful situations of repair, the infant develops that relational trust which he can channel towards a calm and solid bond of attachment. The experience of repair underlies the construction of such a bond in adult relationships too. In this case the breakdown is the moment when we express our discomfort and the repair is the moment when we feel that the other person has understood our experience and both parties come out of the situation enriched and strengthened.
On the other hand, experiencing repeated breakdowns in communication with partial and/or inappropriate repair makes an infant build a negative emotional nucleus characterised by anger and sadness and by a process of withdrawing from dealings with the world.This withdrawal, which is accompanied by denied or hidden feelings, is often expressed by a relatively significant lack of awareness.
When an infant is forced to resort to forms of self-regulation for a prolonged period of time, or when his reaching out encounters unfavourable environmental conditions, his nascent relational capacity can be compromised (Tronick, 1989; Tronick et al., 1986). Processes of self-regulation, since they are not expressions of withdrawal, need to be integrated with processes of interactive regulation. Reaching out and withdrawing should be fluid and vibrant movements, as, indeed, all movements should be. We are driven towards therapeutic relationships by the need for interactive regulation, the expression of that age-old desire for company and the need to repair an unresolved error, an instance of interactive regulation which did not work properly and has left a mark on the pattern of self-regulation. The result of the repair will provide the meaning of the experience as a whole: interaction, lack of attunement, breakdown and repair. The experience of lack of attunement, which is so realistic in life, does not have a negative meaning in itself: it enables the infant to deal with new, expanding developmental tasks.
Ways of being togetherIn fact, emotion regulation in the first few months of an infantís life follows paths which, to a certain extent, enable us to perceive subsequent ways of ďbeing togetherĒ. Diener and his colleagues (2002) have traced some of these likely paths. The first possibility is where the infantís self-regulatory capacity and his use of interactive regulation coexist in a balanced way. The infant experiences a sense of self-efficacy or self-possession in terms of his capacity for regulating his emotions in an autonomous way and, where necessary, is flexible enough to be able to turn to an adult figure. He is able to express his own emotions - the self-expression which forms the second pillar of the embodied Self (Lowen, 1994) - whether these be positive or negative, and the caregiver is perceived as emotionally available. The repetition of experiences of breakdown and repair and the presence of a sufficiently affectionate mother allow a fullness of self-awareness to develop which integrates self-expression and self-possession. It is highly likely that this will be the basis for the establishment of a secure attachment.
read more on this...Nicoletta Cinotti "The expression of an age-old need for company: Infant research and bioenergetic analysis", International Journal of Bioenergetic Analysis, April 2012 International Institute of Bioenergetic Analysis