Tangential Responses In Communication and Depressogenesis

Tangential Responses In Communication

From work by J. Ruesch and G. Bateson 1958.

Tangential Response:

  1. The reply inadequately fits the original statement.
  2. The reply has a frustrating effect.
  3. The reply is not geared to the intention behind the original statement, as it is perceivable through word, action and context of the situation.  The reply emphasises an aspect of the statement that is incidental.

From R.D. Laing, ‘Self and Others’ p102:

Boy:  ‘Mummy!  Look what a big fat worm I have got!’
Mother:  ‘You are filthy – away and clean yourself immediately!’

  1. What messages are communicated to the child?
  2. What messages are not communicated to the child?


Summarised from W. M. Brodey 1959.

During direct observation of the relationship between a six-month-old baby and its mother, the occasions in which smiling occurred were noted.  It was observed, first of all, that infant and mother smiled at each other not infrequently.  It was then observed that the mother, during the periods of observation, never once responded with a smile to the infant’s initial smile at her.  She, however, evoked smiling in the infant by smiling herself, by tickling and playing with the infant.  When she was the evoker of the infant’s smiles, she, in turn, smiled back, but she responded with a flat, dull look if the infant took the initiative.