Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “A comparison of Non-verbal Maternal Care of Male and Female Infants in India and the United Kingdom: The Parent-Infant Caregiving Touch Scale in Two Cultures”, by Hodsoll, J.; Pickles, A.; Bozicevic, L.; Supraja, T. A.; Hill, J.; Chandra, P. S. and Sharp, H. (2022), in which authors carry out two simultaneous studies, one in India and other in UK, to discover if there are any differences regarding how mothers behavior with their babies, focusing on “the loving touch”.

A mother’s care for her children is an essential characteristic for the correct development of mammals. Not only to guarantee their survival through their food and nutrition, but also for their physiological, cognitive, social and emotional development.

Care includes, in general terms, food, care for physical health, sensory and intellectual stimulation, security, emotional warmth and affection, comfort when in distress, and also the response to the needs and communications of the babies.

Although many of these aspects have been studied in depth, the role of touch has received very little attention and the results in this regard are much more limited.

In this paper, authors carry out a cross-cultural study to find out if there are differences in how Indian mothers and British mothers care for their children, specifically, when it comes to the so-called “loving touch”.

Why the “loving touch”? Because, in humans, touch-based care has many times been associated with benefits for babies. Skin-to-skin contact from early in the baby’s life in preterm infants has been associated with positive physiological outcomes for them.

It has also been shown to facilitate mother-infant interaction, making it more receptive and synchronous. It seems to support the development of emotional and cognitive skills in children, such as sustained attention or general control.

Specifically, early parental touch has a positive impact on the infant’s early behavior and physiological response to social stress, including her preschool emotional development.

Therefore, there is no doubt that touch is an important sensory exposure for babies that can shape their development.

As we already know, there are different traditions depending on the country in which we are and the behavior of care was not going to be less.

Several studies have examined early maternal sensitivity in certain cultures, and there is some debate, with some experts arguing that there is no universality of maternal sensitivity.

On the other hand, there are other experts who do support the universality of maternal sensitivity and affirm that its manifestations vary between cultures.

The truth is that care responses can be found from mother to child in all cultures, but they are different. For example, cross-national studies have shown that when Western mothers interact with their babies, they use more proximal behaviors: caressing or patting, for example. They also use distant behaviors, such as talking, looking, or smiling. But in other non-Western cultures, such as India, the baby is massaged daily.

On the other hand, authors were interested in exploring whether there was any variation in the care received by the baby depending on whether he/she was a boy or a girl. In some South Asian populations, boys are favored over girls, and this preference might be relevant to the mothers themselves. In fact, India has the most abnormal levels of female excess mortality in the world in girls aged 1-4 years.

Authors hypothesized that boys would receive greater tactile attention compared to girls.

In the Indian context, a total of 395 mothers participated, and in the United Kingdom, 874. The Parent-Infant Caregiving Touch Scale (PICTS) was produced, which contains questions such as: how often does the mother touch her baby’s back, head , your tummy, arms or legs.

The findings were clear: the rate of reported early caresses in the UK is higher than in India, but there was no difference regarding the sex of the babies.

That is to say, on the one hand, it seems that cultural differences are significant and in India it is much more common to practice daily baby massages than caress, unlike in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, it seems that sexual discrimination is experiencing a certain decrease.

Authors mention that this article may serve to examine in the future if the protective effects that are supposed to appear after these care behaviors are similar for children in India and the United Kingdom, seeing that the care practices are different.

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