Fear amongst Infants
(Vinod Anand)

Everyone knows how fear feels—stomach turning over, heart racing, mouth dry, skin perspiring, thoughts concentrated on how to get away from the situation in which one is. When infants show distress through crying and apparent attempts to withdraw, adults usually conclude that the children are afraid. When the baby is old enough to cling and to seek proximity to his mother, these behaviors, along with crying and withdrawing, are probably universal indications to adults that young children are afraid.
Fear behavior is neither rigid nor automatic. The physiological basis for fear reactions is inherited, but its expression is an interaction with the environment. Possible reactions are those that facilitate withdrawal from dangers the young are likely to encounter: strangers, heights, excessive stimulation. As the section o attachment behavior has shown, attachment and fear are articulated in ways that promote survival of the infant and that permit exploration and growth. When strange person, object, or situation causes distress and withdrawal, contact through clinging, touching, or even looking at a loved person restores the baby’s equilibrium in such a way that he can approach and explore. Loss of support, pain, loud noises, and other intense stimuli also cause distress reactions which look like fear and which can usually be alleviated by holding the baby close. Individual differences in temperament make for more intense reactions in some infants and less in others. Some can be comforted more easily than others.
A group of infants between 2 and 23 months were examined in a series of fear- provoking situations and other tests, and their mothers were interviewed. Fears of loud noises, masks, a Jack-in-the-box, and a mechanical dog were correlated and showed more intensity in younger and older infants than in those in the middle of the age range. The babies who indicated most fear in these situations of intense stimulation and strange objects tended to be the “cuddliest” babies, or to show highest need for physical contact. This result is consistent with the observation that clinging seems to allay fear. Fear of falling was tested on a visual cliff a platform of strong glass with a textured pattern under it. Half of the patterned surface is directly under the glass and the other half far below it, giving the visual illusion of a drop-off, halfway across the platform. The fear of crossing the visual cliff increased with age, from 6 months onward. Non-creepers showed different reactions to the two sides of the cliff when placed on its edge, but no fear reactions. Even when pulled across the cliff, they had no fear reactions. Creepers showed some fear, and walkers more fear. Below 10 months of age, the babies did more tactile than visual exploration but after that age, visual exploration increased and tactile decreased. By 5 or 6 months most of the infants could distinguish between the two sides of the cliff, but not between what would support them and what would not. It looked as though experience with space through locomotion was necessary for being able to tell by looking what would offer support for the body. Fear of the cliff was correlated with previous falls, cuddliness, and protest at separation from the mother.
Fear of strangers ordinarily occurs in the second half of the first year and rarely before then. The babies in the study described above showed no fear of strangers until 7 months, moderate fear between 7 and 12, and more fear after 12 months. A certain amount of maturity is necessary before unfamiliar images and expectations must be built up first, in order to have a basis for comparison.
Sex differences in fear of strangers were found in another study. The age of onset of fear of strangers was taken as the first month in which the baby showed a clear-cut avoidance response to an unfamiliar adult. For girls, the mean age for this measure was 6.7 months and for boys, 9.1 months. Fear of strangers is also related to the number of social contacts an infant has, both within and outside his family. First-born children showed fear of strangers at younger ages than did later-horns.
Fear of strangers becomes meaningful when viewed in the sequence of attachment behavior described on page 216. Positive attachments to the mother and other important human beings are built up, and then discrimination against others is developed. In the previously mentioned study of attachment in infancy, 77 percent of babies were found to show their first fear of strangers about one month after they showed the beginnings of specific attachments. At 8 to ½ months, the amount of looking at a stranger has been found negatively related to the infant’s rear of strangers. Ainsworth, from her observations of infants in Uganda, describes a developmental sequence in response to strangers during the first year of life: (1) No observable discrimination between strange and familiar people. (2) Different responses to mother and strangers, but accepts strangers. (3) The baby stares at strangers but does not show fear reactions. (4) The baby does not approach strangers but allows them to hold him, showing some uneasiness. (5) Fear reactions, ranging from slight apprehension to panic.
Fear of strangers decreases during the second and third years of life, as shown by increasing willingness to accept comfort from a stranger. Fear of being left alone and fear of the dark probably have a large hereditary, maturational basis. It could be very dangerous for a young, wild primate to be left alone, especially in the dark. His fears and protestations would have real survival value. What meaning does this have for human parents? If they think of such fears as natural outcomes of development in infancy, then they will expect to provide comfort and reassurance if 5uch fears are aroused and to be patient until children grow beyond them.

Author's Bio: 


Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.