Infant and Maternal Responses to Emotional Facial Expressions: A Longitudinal Study

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Dela Cruz, Kenn, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Grossmann, Tobias, University of Virginia

The current longitudinal study (N = 107) examined mothers’ facial emotion recognition
using reaction time and their infants’ affect-based attention at 5, 7, and 14 months of age using eyetracking. Our results, examining maternal and infant responses to angry, fearful and happy facial expressions, show that only maternal responses to angry facial expressions were robustly and positively linked across time points, indexing a consistent trait-like response to social threat among mothers. However, neither maternal responses to happy or fearful facial expressions nor infant responses to all three facial emotions show such consistency, pointing to the changeable nature of facial emotion processing, especially among infants. In general, infants’ attention toward negative emotions (i.e., angry and fear) at earlier timepoints was linked to their affect-biased attention for these emotions at 14 months but showed greater dynamic change across time. Moreover, our results provide limited evidence for developmental continuity in processing negative emotions and for the bidirectional interplay of infant affect-biased attention and maternal facial emotion recognition. This pattern of findings suggests that infants’ affect-biased attention to facial expressions of emotion are characterized by dynamic changes.

MA (Master of Arts)
Emotion, Emotion Recognition, Attention, Infant, Mothers
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