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The Development of Maternal Touch Across the First Year of Life

While maternal touch predicts mother-infant reciprocity, which is linked to positive child cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, the incidence of all forms of nurturing touch decrease through the infant’s first year, especially after six months.

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  • N: 131
  • Subject Ages: 3, 6, 9 and 12 months
  • Location: Israel, northern region
  • SES: Middle class
  • Eligibility: Healthy mother and infant
  • Additional: Urban


  1. Affectionate touch would be the most growth-promoting form of touch and would have the closest relations to mother-infant reciprocity as compared to all other forms of touch. Reciprocity was selected as an outcome variable due to the reported links between mother-infant reciprocity with the child’s cognitive, linguistic and social-emotional outcomes.

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Maternal touch - the Touch Scoring Instrument
  • Maternal sensitivity and dyadic reciprocity - the Coding Interactive Behavior System




  1. All forms of touch—affectionate, stimulating and instrumental touch—decreased across the first year of life.
  2. There was a significant decrease in affectionate and stimulating touch between six and nine months.
  3. Results showed that maternal affectionate touch was a significant predictor of dyadic reciprocity; affectionate touch explained unique variance in dyadic reciprocity above and beyond the effects of infant age, gender, birth order or ethnicity.


  • This was a cross-sectional study rather than longitudinal; therefore the stability of touch behavior in individual dyads was not studied or accounted for.
  • Convenience sample
  • The study is based on observing only one interaction among the dyads and therefore may not be truly representative of dyad reciprocity.
  • Procedural differences in carrying out the study for the different age groups may pose some limitations on general conclusions.