Facial expressivity at 4 months: A context by expression analysis

David S. Bennett, Margaret Bendersky, Michael Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations

Abstract

The specificity predicted by differential emotions theory (DET) for early facial expressions in response to 5 different eliciting situations was studied in a sample of 4-month-old infants (n = 150). Infants were videotaped during tickle, sour taste, jack-in-the-box, arm restraint, and masked-stranger situations and their expressions were coded second by second. Infants showed a variety of facial expressions in each situation; however, more infants exhibited positive (joy and surprise) than negative expressions (anger, disgust, fear, and sadness) across all situations except sour taste. Consistent with DET-predicted specificity, joy expressions were the most common in response to tickling, and were less common in response to other situations. Surprise expressions were the most common in response to the jack-in-the-box, as predicted, but also were the most common in response to the arm restraint and masked-stranger situations, indicating a lack of specificity. No evidence of predicted specificity was found for anger, disgust, fear, and sadness expressions. Evidence of individual differences in expressivity within situations, as well as stability in the pattern across situations, underscores the need to examine both child and contextual factors in studying emotional development. The results provide little support for the DET postulate of situational specificity and suggest that a synthesis of differential emotions and dynamic systems theories of emotional expression should be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-113
Number of pages17
JournalInfancy
Volume3
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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