Infants learn from observing others' emotional behavior

March 26, 2007

Infants use indirect emotional information--emotional reactions that are directed at other people--to guide their own behavior.

That's the finding from a new study by researchers at the University of Washington. The study is published in the March-April 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

Researchers carried out two studies on 18-month-old infants. In both studies, infants watched an adult performing actions on objects. Then they watched as another adult, called an "emoter," expressed either anger or was neutral to the first adult in response to her actions. Infants were then given an opportunity to play with the object; during this time, the emoter was neutral.

The researchers found that infants' actions were influenced by their memory of the emoter's prior emotional display toward the adult who had carried out the action. In particular, infants were loath to copy the first adult's actions when the emoter had been angry at her for producing these actions. Even more striking, infants' actions varied depending on whether they were in the emoter's visual field when they had access to the objects. If the previously angry emoter left the room or had her back turned, infants eagerly copied the first adult's actions.

"This research extends what is known about infants' emotional understanding," according to Betty M. Repacholi, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington and the study's lead author. "Here we show that by 18 months, infants understand how actions on objects can impact another person's emotions and can predict how their own actions might influence that person's future emotions."

The study adds to the growing body of evidence that by the time they are toddlers, children have some of the basic social-cognitive skills that provide the foundation for their later understanding of other people's psychological states. This ability to understand other people is essential for successful peer relationships and other positive social behaviors.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 78, Issue 2, Emotional Eavesdropping: Infants Selectively Respond to Indirect Emotional Signals by Repacholi, BM, and Meltzoff, AN (University of Washington). Copyright 2007 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Society for Research in Child Development

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to