Contextual Determinants of Anger and Other Negative Expressions in Young Infants

Margaret W. Sullivan, Michael Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Two experiments examined how different frustration contexts affect the instrumental and emotional responses of 4- to 5-month-old infants. Three different frustrating contexts were investigated: loss of stimulation (extinction), reduction in contingent stimulation (partial reinforcement), and loss of stimulus control (noncontingency). In both experiments, changes in arm activity and facial expressions of anger and sadness coded according to the Maximally Discriminative Facial Movement Coding System (MAX) were the measures of frustration. Both experiments showed that (a) arm responses increased when the contingent stimulus was lost or reduced but decreased when control of the stimulus was lost under noncontingency, (b) MAX-coded anger, but not MAX-coded sad or blends of anger and sad, was associated with frustration, and (c) the pattern of anger and arm responses varied with the frustration context. When contingent stimulation was lost or reduced, both anger and arm responses increased, but when expected control was lost under noncontingency, arm responses decreased while anger increased.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-705
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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