RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT: New research on the impacts of care from other adults on infant learning

CRANE STUDY AUTHOR: Dr. Britt Singletary 


Much of the research on young children’s learning and knowledge acquisition focuses on children ages two years or older and on formal child care environments. However, less than 33% of infants under age two participate in formal child care. Thus, it is important to understand how the care arrangements for toddlers under age two impact their learning. Often mothers rely on fathers, grandparents, or other relatives and friends to help provide care for their infant. In other words, infants are often experience informal allomaternal care (AMC), or care for an infant from someone other than the mother. This study examines the effect of AMC on early cognitive and language outcomes in infants aged 13-18 months.

The study was based on 102 mothers and their typically developing infants. Mothers answered a questionnaire about who usually helps care for their child, completed a daily diary on their child’s care arrangements, and were interviewed to discuss individuals who regularly helped care for the child. 


Infants were assessed using the Bayley scales – a standardized test to measure learning outcomes in young children. This assessment evaluates:


Cognition: the child’s ability to problem-solve, manipulate objects, formulate concepts, and exhibit representational and imaginary play.


Receptive language: the child’s ability to interpret and behaviorally respond to verbal requests or interactions.


Expressive language: the child’s ability to appropriately express ideas and intentions using either pre-verbal or verbal communication skills.


Dr. Singletary found that infants exposed to more AMC did earn higher scores for cognition but did not experience impacts on the expressive or receptive language subtests. Overall, the study provides information about cognitive development that comes from AMC among children in an age group not often studied.