Why/What Causes Infants To Smile At Strangers?

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What is Children Experience Anxiety?

Children experience a type of anxiety when they are exposed to people unfamiliar to them. This is known as stranger anxiety. It can be demonstrated in the form of various symptoms such as staring at the stranger, getting quiet, making verbal protestations through cries and other types of vocalizations. Being a part of developmental sequence of a child, stranger anxiety is experienced by majority of children. However, it becomes a problem as the child gets older and begins to socialize. This emerges in the form of hesitant behavior of children while playing with others.

According to Goodman and Paulos, 2004, children develop strong bonds to their primary care givers (Goodman and Paulos, 2004). This makes them feel uneasy about someone who has an unfamiliar face. The development of stranger anxiety is a slow process which typically starts to appear around 4 months of age. This is when infants exhibit a different behavior with care givers than with strangers. As per the views of Wood and et.al., (2002), children become cautious due to presence of strangers (Wood and et.al., 2002). When in the age group of 7-8 months, infants display stranger anxiety more clearly and frequently. When an infant reaches the age of 12 months, stranger anxiety gets intensified. Shear and et.al., (2006) stress that stranger anxiey is a normal and common symptom of development of a child (Shear and et.al., 2006). It need not be taken as a disorder which needs treatment. However, efforts need t be made to make it less intense. But, Bögels and Phares, (2008) assert that it is normal for a baby to get anxious when they are held by an unfamiliar person (Bögels and Phares, s2008). This depicts a sign of healthy emotional development. It also demonstrates attachment of the infant with his primary care givers. It shows the ability of the infant to understand the difference that exists between stranger and his care givers.

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However, it can be critically evaluated that there is a need to make this phase easier for the child. Bar-Haim and et.al., (2007) found that it is essential that children become comfortable with those who are not their primary care givers. Smile is considered to be one of the building blocks of attachment. When 0-6 weeks old, the babies give reflexive smile (Bar-Haim and et.al., 2007). This converts to responsive smile at the age of 6-8 weeks. Infants at this age smile at those things that they find pleasurable. However, this smile is a sensory experience. It cannot be considered as a social response. social smile is given by infants when they are 2-3 months old (Happy Baby! How Smiles Develop, 2015). It is at this age that babies want to connect and give smile to their parents. At the ages of about 9 months, selective smile is exhibited by babies. This is the age when they begin to learn and identify their parents as special and distinct from others. It is at this age that stranger anxiety sets in. it can be analyzed that infants stop smiling at strangers at this age.

All the parents are concerned about teaching their children to be cautious when they are approached by a stranger. However, at the same time, they are worried about teaching their children to maintain an appropriate balance between natural curiosity and friendliness thereby asking him to rely on parent's approval before dealing with strangers. Stranger anxiety can emerge as a major problem if infants demonstrate excessive distress on meeting new people (Goodman and Paulos, 2004). This also becomes problematic when they are not able to separate from their parents during first week of daycare or any new setting. This is the point that stranger anxiety begins to interfere with the social development of children. In this regard, the present proposal aims to explore the issue of stranger anxiety. It intends to discuss research techniques and methods that will be used for answering the research question “what makes infants smile at strangers?”.

Research questions

  • what is the phenomenon of stranger anxiety?
  • What the factors that make infants smile at strangers?

Study design

The proposed study which aims to find out what causes infants to smile at strangers will use descriptive study design. Descriptive research is one which is used for describing the characteristics of a population. It is used when specific behavior in an environment is to be described (Ihantola and Kihn, 2011). Application of descriptive design helps in gaining information about a group of people. In the present study, the researcher aims to focus on infants. The study intends to find out what causes infants to smile at strangers. As such, information is required to be gained about infants. Thus, descriptive design would suit the purpose. Moreover, descriptive research is designed for depicting participants in an accurate way. More specifically, it is all about the people who take part in the study. In the preset research, infants and their behavior towards strangers is to be studied in an accurate way. As such, descriptive design will help the researcher in doing the same. It will assist in providing complete and accurate description of the people who will take part in the study. This will aid in answering the research question.

Descriptive studies can be undertaken in three ways. These include observational, case study and survey (Franklin, 2012). The present study aims to find out the reasons that cause infants to smile at strangers. As sch, for answering the research question, there will be a need to study infants and their behavior in detail. Also, the researcher will be required to examine what type of stranger behavior could make infants smile so that issue of stranger anxiety could be addressed. This could be better done by taking interview of mothers of infants. This is because mothers observe each and every detail of behavior of their child. As such, descriptive design can be applied by using survey approach (McGrath and O'Toole, 2012.). This will facilitate the researcher in making an interview with the mother. By obtaining information from them about the behavior of infants, it could be found out as to what makes them smile at strangers. As such, it will help in determining answer to the research question. Moreover, descriptive design will help in observing and describing the behavior of infants without influencing them in any way. This is essentially required in the present study for finding out what makes infants to smile at strangers.

Method – Materials

For current proposal on understanding the reasons because of which infants look at strangers the materials that will be used by the researcher would mainly include referring to the electronic databases. These databases are the internet sources and are considered as biggest source as well where huge pool of information is available in form of published articles in journals and books as well. There are a number of databases that are available like NCBI, Cochrane Libraray and PsycInfo (Cronin, Ryan and Coughlan, 2008). For the current proposal on finding out the reasons behind smiling of children at strangers database of PsycInfo will be referred to. This database is an extensive collection of abstracts and indexes with approximately 3 million records of peer – reviewed and published literature as well. Literature is available in subject of mental health and behavioral sciences. As the current topic is based on behavioral sciences of children so for this PsycInfo will be referred and used.

Apart from the electronic databases, key words will be used in order to search the appropriate and relevant literature on way in which children behave and reasons because of which they smile at strangers. Key terms are the variables which are a list of antonyms and synonyms through which search for the relevant articles becomes easy and convenient for the researcher (Franklin, 2012). By just looking at the key words, the search for the literature becomes feasible. For the current proposal on identifying the reasons because of which they smile at strangers, main key words that will be referred are 'near space, far space'. By making use of these key words, the search for the literature will be carried on.

Plan for data collection

Data collection is an important step in every research. In the present study, there will be collection of both primary and secondary data. A such, the researcher will use primary as well as secondary methods for collecting data. Primary data is the first had information that is collected by the researcher for the first time (Krishnaswamy, Sivakumar and Mathirajan, 2009). This is gathered specifically for a research and has not bee used before. Primary data in the present study will be collected with the help of interview. The researcher will interview mother of infants. Observation is another method of collecting primary data. This will also be used in the present research. interactions between the strangers and infants will be observed by the researcher. Camera will be used as a research instrument for making observation of the interaction of infants with strangers.

Secondary data is the second hand information. It has already been published by researchers in their studies previously (Modell and Humphrey, 2008). For collecting secondary information for the present research, the researcher will make use of journals, books, online articles, blogs etc. these will be obtained by conducting an electronic search on Psychinfo. Technique of skimming reading will be used for selecting relevant articles for the research. These will be related to stranger anxiety. Secondary research on Psychinfo will involve using key search words for retrieving suitable information.

Approaching the participants

In the present study, the researcher will collect primary data with the help of interview and observation. Before conducting interview of mothers of infants, the research will obtain informed consent from them. Ethical considerations will be taken into account by the researcher while carrying out the study (Whiteley and Whiteley, 2006). The researcher will inform the participants about the nature and purpose of research. This will be done by having a face to face interaction with the participants. The respondents will also be ensured that their privacy will be maintained. Principles of anonymity will be followed in the study (Bhutta, 2007). Moreover, they will be assured that the information provided by them will be kept confidential. Following this, the participants will be provided the consent form. The participants will not be pressurized in any way to take part in the research. Te researcher will answer all the queries o the participants. After that, all those respondents who sign the consent form will be included in the study. After participation, the researcher will ensure to debrief them about the research.

Method- Proposed Data Analysis Techniques

After collecting the data, next step in research is that of data analysis. The collected data needs to be interpreted and analyze so as to obtain meaningful conclusion from it. Data analysis is the process in which logical and statistical techniques are used in an organized manner (Vaivio, 2008). This helps in condensing the data so that evaluation can be performed on it. In the present research, data analysis is important so as to find out what makes infants smile at strangers. There are primarily two techniques of analyzing data. These are known as qualitative and quantitative techniques. Qualitative techniques are those that do not involve any measurement of statistics. These help in obtaining detailed information about the participants of a research. It assists in determining and studying behavior of research participants. In contrast to this, quantitative techniques are those that help in investigating a phenomena with the help of numerical data, computational, mathematical or statistical techniques. This requires employing mathematical models.


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In the present study, the researcher will make use of both quantitative and qualitative techniques for analyzing data. For qualitative analysis, thematic technique will be used. It is the most common technique of performing qualitative analysis of data (Marshall, 2007). This will help in simplifying the data with the use of sections. As such, patterns of meaning or themes will be identified across the data set. For performing quantitative analysis, the researcher will use the technique of correlation. Correlation is a statistical technique which helps in knowing how strong is the link between pairs of variables. This will help in determining the link between variables for finding out what causes infants to smile at strangers. Analysis of observations made by the researcher will also be done.


From the present proposal it can bee concluded that stranger anxiety is a normal developmental step in a child's life. It is not a disorder. However, the problem becomes complex when children feel distress due to presence of a stranger at later stages of life. In this regard, research questions were formulated to find out what cause infants to smile at strangers. The present study will make use of descriptive research design. Both primary and secondary data collection methods were proposed to be used in the present research. It was also proposed that the research will use qualitative and quantitative techniques for analyzing data.


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