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The Still Face Experiment – Technology

In 2013, Tronick told the Washington Post, ““we just didn’t have any idea how powerful the connection with other people was for infants, and how, when you disconnect, how powerfully negative the effect was on the infant” (Mock, 2020).

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In 1975, a researcher by the name of Edward Tronick presented the “Still Face Experiment” to the Society for Research in Child Development. Along with colleagues, Tronick conveyed the message that emotional disengagement with an infant lead to emotional distress in the child. When a parent spent a few minutes responding to the baby and communicating (the child would point or reach and the parent would look and lean in), the infant would smile and express joy. On the other hand, when a parent spent three minutes physically still, and non-responsive, the infant would move into distress, looking away and crying, reaching in but getting no physical response from the parent.

Source: Li, W, Woudstra, MJ, Branger, MCE, et al. The effect of the still‐face paradigm on infant behavior: A cross‐cultural comparison between mothers and fathers. Infancy. 2019; 24: 893– 910.



In his experiment, Tronick touched on the emphasis of building secure attachments with a child. Later on down the road, Dr. Sue Johnson took note of this research, along with the development of attachment theory by John Bowlby. She wanted to explain how implications of secure and insecure attachment impacted adult attachment bonding. While Tronick didn’t necessarily send the message that parent had to intensely focus on engaging emotionally, he wanted to understand the power of this form of connection.

In 2013, Tronick told the Washington Post, ““we just didn’t have any idea how powerful the connection with other people was for infants, and how, when you disconnect, how powerfully negative the effect was on the infant” (Mock, 2020).


Source: https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/still-face-experiment-flat-affect-baby/

What I wanted to touch on is the connection between Tronick’s research and modern-day science around “Still Face” experiences, including media and technology. A developmental psychologist, Caspar Addyman, at Goldsmith University of London has questioned the impact of technology on neglecting emotion. Without diving entirely to findings or lack of research on the topic thus far, we can imagine a similar correlation could take place when looking at technology and emotional attunement.


For example, I’ve worked with parents who are concerned about the amount of time their child spends “glued” to their devices. In addition, I’ve heard partners express how their partner is disengaged, “distracted” by their devices when they’re having a meaningful discussion. These are instances where we might feel like we’re missing out on building that vulnerable connection with our partners, family members or friends.


Like the “Still Face Experiment,” we miss out on the emotional and physical attunement of our loved ones if we’re distracted by these devices or technologies. At times, we could hear the response from our loved one that, “you’re not paying attention to me,” “you’re too distracted to care,” or even, “Do you love me anymore?” Depending on insecure attachment cycles and a history of emotional neglect, distress could show itself differently depending on the individual in the given situation.


We are responsible for building awareness of ourselves and the environment around us. We live in a world now where, just as we’ve grown, the availability of other resources for communication and news has grown tremendously as well. While they provide an outlook into awareness of issues and concerns that are prominent in culture, society and the world today, they also impact our emotional awareness and ability to attune to those around us at any given time.


When you read this short blog on the concern of “Still Face” experiences, does it resonate in your life?


We want to hear your thoughts. Please reach out. If you’re concerned about emotional attunement in your relationship(s), please feel free to contact us here.


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