Infants Can Recognize Emotions In Facial Expressions
June 27, 2013

Babies Can Decipher Each Other’s Moods

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new study published in the journal Infancy shows that babies are able to recognize each other's moods by five months of age.

Brigham Young University researchers determined that infants are able to sometimes see what adults can't when looking at their peers.

"Newborns can't verbalize to their mom or dad that they are hungry or tired, so the first way they communicate is through affect or emotion," says psychology professor Ross Flom. "Thus it is not surprising that in early development, infants learn to discriminate changes in affect."

Flom and colleagues have performed other significant research about an infant's ability to understand the moods of dogs, monkeys and classical music. This latest paper showcases how infants can match emotion in adults at seven months and familiar adults at six months.

During the study, the team tested a baby's ability to match emotional infant vocalizations with a paired infant facial expression.

"We found that 5 month old infants can match their peer's positive and negative vocalizations with the appropriate facial expression," says Flom. "This is the first study to show a matching ability with an infant this young. They are exposed to affect in a peer's voice and face which is likely more familiar to them because it's how they themselves convey or communicate positive and negative emotions."

Flom and his team placed infants in front of two monitors, one of which displayed a video of a happy, smiling baby while the other monitor displayed a video of a second sad, frowning baby. The team found that when audio was played of a third happy baby, the infant participating in the study looked longer to the video of the baby with positive facial expressions.

Infants in the study were able to match negative vocalizations with video of the sad frowning baby. Audio recordings used in the study were from a third baby and not in sync with the lip movements of the babies in either video.

"These findings add to our understanding of early infant development by reiterating the fact that babies are highly sensitive to and comprehend some level of emotion," says Flom. "Babies learn more in their first 2 1/2 years of life than they do the rest of their lifespan, making it critical to examine how and what young infants learn and how this helps them learn other things."

The next step for the team is to run experiments to test whether babies could do this at even younger ages if they were watching and hearing clips of themselves.