Toddlers Connect Emotional Responses to Epistemic States

AbstractEmotional expressions are typically transient; while we may react emotionally to a new event, we are unlikely to respond with the same emotion once the event becomes familiar. Here we look at whether toddlers understand the relationship between people’s epistemic states and their emotional responses. Younger (12-17-month) and older (18-24-month) toddlers were familiarized with a movie in which an observer was knowledgeable or ignorant about a recurring event. On the test trial, the observer saw the event and either remained neutral or changed to a valenced emotional reaction (positive or negative). We predicted that the change from a neutral to a valenced expression would be more surprising if the event was familiar to the observer than if the event was novel. We found an interaction between epistemic state and emotion for older but not younger toddlers. These results suggest that before age two, children begin to understand the transient nature of emotional reactions and their dependence on people’s epistemic state.

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