Affect in infants

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Chapter 4 endnote 37, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Infants experience affect, even as there is no consistent evidence that they experience emotions.

This idea originated with Bridges[1] and later adapted by Sroufe[2] and then Michael Lewis[3]. Newborns experience general distress (marked by crying and irritability) and pleasure (marked by smiling): this is valence. Infants also display quiet attention and alertness, and of course we don’t need experiments to know that newborns startle to loud, unexpected noises! This is arousal.

Harriet Oster, an expert in developmental psychology, writes:

"Newborns and young infants show many distinctive infant expressions, including focused attention/interest/puzzlement, negative expressions with disgust components in response to smell as well as taste, variants and intensity gradations of fussy and distress expressions in response to pain and any other causes of negative emotion, and distinctive modulations of pre-cry and cry faces, like pouts. But newborns don't show differentiated, adult-like expressions of specific discrete emotions. (Those aren't shown even by older infants in the first year.) They may show combinations of facial movements seen in adult surprise, but that's usually because they raise their brows when their mouth is already open (often the case for young infants) .... the evidence has shown that they don't produce the coordinated expression of surprise in contexts where it would be expected."[4]

Newborns can also perceive differences in valence.[5] for example, they widen their eyes in response to pleasant speech sounds (vs. unpleasant sounds) produced in their mother’s native language (vs. non-maternal languages) mot likely because they heard them prenatally.[6] They also cry in response to the cries of other newborns,[7] which represents a basic form of affective communication.[8]

See also


Notes on the Notes

  1. Bridges, Katharine M. Banham. 1932. "Emotional development in early infancy." Child Development (1932): 324-341.
  2. Sroufe, L. Alan. 1996. Emotional Development: The Organization of Emotional Life in the Early Years. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Lewis, Michael. 2014. The Rise of Consciousness and the Development of Emotional Life. New York: Guilford Press
  4. Harriett Oster, personal communication, February 22, 2013. For a discussion and relevant references, see Oster, Harriet. 2005. "The repertoire of infant facial expressions: An ontogenetic perspective." In Emotional Development: Recent Research Advances, edited by Jacqueline Nadel and Darwin Muir., 261-292. New York: Oxford Umiversity Press.
  5. Saarni, Carolyn, Joseph J. Campos, Linda A. Camras, and David Witherington. 2006. "Emotional development." In Handbook of Child Psychology: Volume 3, Social, Emotional and Personality Development, 6th edition, edited by William Damon and Nancy Eisenberg, 226-299. New York: Wiley.
  6. Mastropieri, Diane, and Gerald Turkewitz. 1999. "Prenatal experience and neonatal responsiveness to vocal expressions of emotion." Developmental Psychobiology 35 (3): 204-214.
  7. Dondi, Marco, Francesca Simion, and Giovanna Caltran. 1999. "Can newborns discriminate between their own cry and the cry of another newborn infant?." Developmental Psychology 35 (2): 418-426.
  8. Owren, Michael J., R. Toby Amoss, and Drew Rendall. 2011. "Two organizing principles of vocal production: Implications for nonhuman and human primates." American Journal of Primatology 73 (6): 530-544