Good Child is a Calm Child: Mothers' Social Status, Maternal Conceptions of Proper Demeanor, and Stranger Anxiety in One-Year Old Cameroonian Nso Children


  • Hiltrud Otto The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Martin Buber Society of Fellows
  • Heidi Keller University of Osnabrueck, Faculty of Human Sciences, Institute of Psychology, Department of Culture & Development


stranger anxiety, socialization processes, parental ethnotheories, culture and development


Our article questions the assumption that stranger anxiety develops universally in children; thereby our study is rooted in a long tradition in psychological anthropology of testing the universality of theories formulated in Western society. We argue that the infant's behavior towards strangers is the product of socialization processes that represent adaptations to cultural contexts. Our study investigates the ethnotheory of childrearing and the development of stranger anxiety in a Cameroonian community of traditional Nso farmers. The participants of the study were 29 Cameroonian Nso mothers with one-year old children. Using a multi-method approach, we demonstrate that Nso mothers value inexpressive infants that adjust easily to others. Accordingly, a considerably large number of one-year old Nso infants showed no stranger anxiety when encountered by a stranger. Maternal social status and her social support system proved crucial to successful implementation of the socialization goal of a calm child. Our data support the view that child behavior is a product of culturally constructed experiences of daily life. The acknowledgement of the cultural construction of stranger anxiety carries implications for developmental theories, especially for attachment theory, which relies on the universality of stranger anxiety in their most acclaimed paradigm, the Strange Situation.