Infants form expectations about others' emotions based on context and perceptual access


Infants attend to and discriminate between other people's emotional expressions. However, it is unknown whether infants have a conceptual understanding of others' emotions and the contexts that elicit them, or merely a perceptual schema for emotional facial expressions. Using a violation of expectation paradigm, we tested whether 11 month old infants expect others' emotional reactions to be contextually congruent. Specifically, infants saw one adult (Observer) react to another adult's (Target) emotional expression. If the Observer was looking at the Target, infants expected the Observer to react congruently (positively to a happy Target, negatively to a sad Target), and looked longer at incongruent emotional reactions. Infants had no expectation of congruence if the Observer was looking away from, and could not see, the Target. This result suggests that within the first year of life, infants represent emotions in terms of the contexts that elicit them.

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