Amodal Perception and Vitality Affects and How They Contribute to Affect Attunement
Like many of Stern’s concepts, affect attunement is subtle and tangentially related to many other concepts. As a result he spends a good deal of time explaining what affect attunement is not. After having done so, he describes the ingredients of affect attunement and what it serves to accomplish in the mother-infant relationship and the development of the infant.
The thrust of affect attunement, and what makes it different form other concepts and modes of behavior such as mirroring and imitation, is the expansion and adjustments in the reflective behavior of the mother toward the infant that contributes to a complex interactive and intersubjective experience. What these reactive behaviors accomplish most importantly is a shared emotional experience (“shared affect state”). An essential part of this, according to Stern, is that this “communion” goes beyond imitation.
In going beyond imitation, we see the utility of amodal perception. It is the ability to convey a matching affect state across modes of perception that helps accomplish several relational necessities. Amodal perception allows for versatility in the conveyance of shared emotional experience and affect attunement. It contributes to a unified perceptual experience for the infant, integrating temporally proximal information extracted through different perceptual means. And, simultaneously, it conveys a sense of connection and subjectivity, that is a sense of relating yet separation (ideas central to Stern’s theory), that mere imitation could not accomplish.
Vitality affects are very much related to amodal perception, and thus hinges on the qualities of intensity and time in the interactive behavior of the mother and infant. The fluidity of vitality affects contributes to a cohesive sense of interrelatedness and allows for responsiveness with regards to the vicissitudes of the infant’s affective states.
The emphasis and unifying notion for all three is of the form, not the content, of the interaction- the “how of the behavior”, as opposed to “the what.”