A microgenetic research design with a multiple case study method and a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses was used to investigate interdyad differences in real-time dynamics and developmental change processes in mother-infant face-to-face communication over the first 3 months of life. Weekly observations of 24 mother-infant dyads using analyses performed dyad-by-dyad showed that most dyads go through 2 qualitatively different developmental phases of early face-to-face communication: After a phase of mutual attentiveness, mutual engagement begins in weeks 7-8 with infant Smiling and Cooing bidirectionally linked with maternal Mirroring. This gives rise to sequences of positive feedback which, by the 3rd month, dynamically stabilizes into innovative play routines. However, when there is a lack of bidirectional positive feedback between infant and maternal behaviors, and a lack of permeability of the early communicative patterns to incorporate innovations, the development of the mutual engagement phase is compromised. The findings contribute both to theories of relationship change processes and to clinical work with at-risk mother-infant interactions.
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