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Bringing up baby: emotion's early role.

Bringing up baby: Emotion's early role

Three-month-old infants may not beable to walk and talk, but by that age they appear able to differentiate among several of their mothers' emotional expressions, according to psychologists at Rutgers--The State University, in New Brunswick, N.J. This is the youngest age at which such discriminations have been shown, say investigators Jeannette M. Haviland and Mary Lelwica, and it suggests that the regulation and shaping of emotional responses begins in the early weeks of life.

"The infants respond as if the presentedemotional expression contains meaningful information,' report the researchers in the January DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, "leading to an emotional expression and an emotional state in the infant.' While each emotional display had a specific effect on the infants, their behavior was not merely an imitation of the mothers' expressions.

A number of studies have shown thatby 6 months most infants can tell the difference between posed versions of several facial expressions, and that they preferentially look at happy poses rather than sad, neutral or angry poses.

Haviland and Lelwica tested 12 infants(6 boys and 6 girls) at 10 weeks old. The infants' mothers were trained to display happy, sad and angry facial expressions. Each expression was presented to the infants in four 15-second periods, with the mother turning her head away for 20 seconds between periods. While facing their babies, mothers were instructed to speak continuously, saying, "You make me [happy, sad or mad]' and matching their voices to the facial expressions.

Videotapes of mothers and infantswere independently analyzed by the researchers for second-by-second changes in behavior and emotional expression.

The researchers were easily able toidentify each mother's emotion display over a 15-second interval, although most mothers did not continuously hold to the precise expression they were trained on. Nevertheless, consistent patterns of infant responses to the three emotional displays were apparent within 1 second following the mothers' presentation of an expression.

Infants initially reacted to their mothers'happy presentations by matching the joyful expression. Over the four presentations, however, infants' facial movements and the amount of time they gazed at their mothers became increasingly expressive of interest and less expressive of happiness. Infants faced forward continuously during these sessions.

Anger expressions increased and physicalmovement and expressions of interest decreased over the mothers' four angry presentations. Infants frequently looked toward the side during these sessions. Crying was rare, except in four infants who were not included in the final sample because the anger display caused intense crying.

In response to mothers' sad expressions,infants predominantly engaged in "mouthing' behavior that included lip and tongue sucking and pushing the lips in and out. This appears to be a "self-soothing' response to the sad expressions, note the researchers. Infants tended to gaze down during these sessions.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 14, 1987
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