Psychologist Ed Tronick
Ed Tronick is a world-class researcher and teacher recognized by his peers for his work on the neurobehavioral and social emotional development of infants and young children, parenting in the U.S. and other cultures, and infant-parent mental health.
Simply stated, Ed Tronick’s “still-face” experiment has revolutionized our understanding of children-first relationships and their critical importance to normal social and emotional development.
“For me, how individuals make meaning is related to growth and development, creativity and pleasure, as well as to fixedness [failure to change], lifelessness, and suffering,” says Tronick.
An infant’s exposure to “good, bad, and ugly” interactions with the mother, as repeatedly communicated by her facial expressions or lack of expression (i.e., a still-face) has long-term consequences for the infant’s confidence and curiosity, or social emotional development, with which to experience and engage the world.
The observed, tested, and proven danger of prolonged ugly interactions initiated by the mother—whether due to post-partum depression, drug abuse, child abuse, or neglect—is that over time the infant’s social-emotional development may fail and lead to aberrant neurological pathways. Tragically, the infant may feel helpless and become apathetic, withdrawn, and depressed. Others may become angry, hyper-vigilant, and emotionally brittle.
Tronick’s research has already produced several critical translational pieces of work. He is coauthor of the book NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale which has been used to identify pre-term and full-term infants at risk due to prenatal substance exposure. The still-face paradigm is used to identify infants whose emotional and coping capacities are compromised and to identify relational disorders in infants and parents. Videos of the still-face are used in hundreds of training programs in infant and child mental health, family court judge issues, and community policing across the country.
Tronick has carried out research in Zaire, Peru, and India on child rearing and development. His study of the Efe foragers in Zaire led to his discovery of the most extensive naturally occurring system of multiple caretaking for foragers described to date.
He is chief of the Child Development Unit at UMass Boston. But he isn’t a pure researcher. Everything he does bespeaks his passion to achieve broad impact.
To fulfill that passion he accepted a senior-faculty position in UMass Boston’s psychology department so he could work with urban families who often lack mental health resources.
“These are people who are really struggling,” says Tronick. “I wanted to take my work of the past and use it in a practical setting.”
To bring that caring into perspective, he started the UMass Boston Infant-Parent Mental Health Post Graduate Certificate Program for training multi-disciplinary professionals.
Today his book, The Neurobehavioral and Social Emotional Development of Infants and Children, is a tour de force according to a review in New England Psychologist.