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Daniel N. Stern: The First Relationship, Harvard Univ. Press 2002 (alkup. 1977)

Daniel N. Stern: The First Relationship, Harvard Univ. Press 2002 (alkup. 1977)


I am tremendously impressed with Stern's research and approach to the human condition. This early book presentes in a succint form many of his key ideas. Stern writes with insight and beauty, there is surprise and dignity to his text. Admirably, he manages to combine the rigorous outlook of a scholar with the charm of a master communicator. All this with the sensitivities of a therapist willing to embrace the emotional and subjective mysteries of the human life and the human in-between. This is a fundamental book.

The book focuses on the interrelation of an infant and his mother, emphasizing "the split-second and nonverbal world of mother-infant interaction" (p. 1). The key word is "mutual regulation"(p. 2, see also 9, 95, 127, 139) and the tremendously rich set of capabilities of the mother and the infant. One leading idea in the book is to demonstrate how astonishingly strong the endownment of the mother and the infant is in the dimension of a mutual interplay that supports growth. That enwonment is there in order for the mother and the infant to conduct the "symphony" (p. 105) and the "waltz" (p. 107) that they comprise as a dyad. It is this perspective of a split-second and nonverbal co-created reality, reaching out beyond anything one could explain on the basis of a stimulus-response model, that is so forcefully and beautifully described in this book.

"When the mother and the infant are acting synchronously, and well under reaction time, then we are forced to think that they are following a shared program. A better analogy for this model is the waltz, where both partners know the steps and music by heart and can accordingly move precisely together, as against the tennis-match analogy of the stimulus-response chain." (p. 107)

Astonishingly and insightfully Stern refers to boxing as illuminating  the interplay of mother and the infant in their split-second world. Analyzing the Muhammd Ali-Mildenberger fight from 1966, Stern observes that "53 percent of all of Ali's left jabs were of shorter duration than the generally agreed upon fastest visual reaction time of 180 milliseconds". "It is reasonable to consider a punch or a dodge as a hypothesis-probing or generating attempt on each fighter's part to understand and predict the other man's behavioral sequences - or to force him into a more restricted repertoire of programs which accordingly will be predictable." "What is truly amazing is how expert humans are at rapidly acquiring temporal and spacial 'maps' of another person's behavioral sequences, even when a major point of activity such as boxing is to keep the behavioral sequences in a constant flux and as unpredictable as possible." (p. 109-100)

"We have frightfully little direct evidence about the infant's timing capabilities. Yet it is difficult to understand how the infant could react as he does, as well as begin to comprehend his social universe, if he (or his nervous system if you prefer) were not capable of some fairly impressive time-estimating operations." "...the timing itself of social behaviors often holds the key to the signal value or meaning or effect." (p. 112-3)

Sterns postulates that "the infant might well have a scalar unit timer for estimating social behaviors in the range beyond half a second". The infant's "ability to form expectancies and to evaluate deviations from the expected will remain intact across the wide range of behavioral tempos a caregiver may use. Furthermore, unless the infant were equipped with this timing process, or a similar one, he could only react to - follow or lead - the caregiver but never dance with her." (p. 115)

Much of this interplay is based on the infant's attention. It is that attention the mother operates with. Catching the attention and remaining sensitive to it is one of the major movements in the split-second world of the infant and the mother - and the "infant has a great deal to say about it" (p. 89).

One aspect of this microbehavioral dimension is provided by the face-to-face play between the mother and the infant. "There is no way to overstress the importantance of such seemingly efffortless endeavor." "We are dealing with a human happening, conducted solely with interpersonal 'moves', with no other end in mind than to be with and enjoy someone else." (p. 91)

A key ingredient is the infant's emergent active part in the interplay. "The infant's control of his attention gives him control over stimulus input and thereby control over internal excitment." (p. 82)

And this is how this short but magnificent book ends:

"The other major lesson is that this system of variability within structure is one to which both infant and caregiver bring the necessary behaviors and responsivities so that it is set to 'run' with the surety and robustness that reflects the work of nature's gradual perfecting over several millenia of evolution an ineractive system designed to develop individuals, not mistakes." (p. 160)

 

Kirjoitti Esa Saarinen, 22.06.2007

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