Characterizing the Temporal Relationship Between Infant Eye Contact and Caregiver Greeting in Infants Later Diagnosed with Autism Restricted; Files Only

Patel, Hely (Spring 2023)

Permanent URL:


This study explores caregiver greeting, a ubiquitous, exaggerated expression used by caregivers to initiate social interaction with their young infants (Stern, 1974). The greeting behavior establishes infant-caregiver interactions by designating the infant as the caregiver’s interactive partner (Stern, 1974). Despite the key role of the greeting behavior and evidence that caregiver greeting differs in dyads with an infant later diagnosed with autism (Ford ... Patel et al., submitted) – a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social-communicative disabilities – the infant behaviors that may prompt caregiver greeting are unknown. This study investigates whether infant attention to the eyes of their caregiver – a critical cue that signals infant social engagement and a cue known to differ in infants later diagnosed with autism – may play a role in eliciting caregiver greeting. This hypothesis was tested in a prospective, cross-sectional sample of 33 infant-caregiver dyads with a neurotypical infant (NT) and 31 dyads with an infant later diagnosed with autism (AUT), all infants aged 3.5-5 months. Peristimulus time histograms were generated to characterize the temporal relationship between infant attention to the eyes and caregiver greeting. Results show that in the NT group, eye-looking is not related to greeting, suggesting that caregivers may use other infant cues to initiate the greeting or rely on successful previous experiences to drive this behavior. In the AUT group, there is a significant increase in eye-looking before and after the greeting, indicating that caregivers in this group rely on cues from their infant – in this case attention to the eyes – to perform their greeting and that caregiver greeting captures the attention of AUT infants in this age range. While greeting is still cued by infant attention in AUT dyads, the lack of relationship between infant attention to the eyes and caregiver greeting in NT dyads may suggest that NT infants may have progressed beyond the need for greeting by 3.5 to 5 months and are ready for more complex caregiver behaviors. These findings offer novel insight into the role of greeting through development and into how the dynamics of infant-caregiver interactions may differ in autism.

Table of Contents

Introduction & Background 1

Figure 1. Examples of caregivers performing the caregiver greeting behavior during an infant-caregiver interaction 2

Research Questions & Hypotheses 4

Materials & Methods 5

Table 1. Infant and Caregiver Demographics for AUT and NT Groups 7

Figure 2. Bidirectional audio-visual recording system used during data collection 8

Figure 3. Standard region of interest coding protocol for eye-looking and mouth-looking 9

Results 10

Figure 4. Comparison of greeting probabilities in the full and subset sample sizes between AUT and NT infants 10

Figure 5. Frame-by-frame analysis of the 3 stages of greeting (start, peak, max) in AUT and NT dyads 11

Figure 6. Box plots display the distribution of the start of greeting and duration of greeting for AUT and NT groups 12

Figure 7. Box plots display the distribution of percent of time infants spend looking at the eyes of their caregivers 13

Figure 8. PSTH indicating the time-locked relationship between infant eye-looking (target event) and caregiver greeting (reference event) in the NT group 14

Figure 9. PSTH indicating the time-locked relationship between infant eye-looking (target event) and caregiver greeting (reference event) in the AUT group 15

Discussion 15

Conclusion 20

References 22

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified Preview image embargoed

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files