The Psychobiology of Affective Development

By Nathan A. Fox; Richard J. Davidson | Go to book overview

4
The Ontogenesis of Human Social Signals: From 4 Biological Imperative to Symbol Utilization

Carol Zander Malatesta Carroll E. lzard

New School for Social Research University of Delaware

Some years ago, a student in a graduate seminar on the emotions raised a question that perhaps should be considered seriously by developmental psychologists. The class had been discussing emotion recognition studies of the sort that employ posed facial expressions of categorical emotions. The student noted that the model's expressions appeared exaggerated and artificial. She further pointed out that people normally do not make such highly articulated, emotionally intense expressions and wondered what sense such studies made. The professor responded that indeed, these posed expressions could be regarded as symbols, symbols whose referents, nonetheless, could be readily identified by others. The question of why these symbols are so readily identifiable, and how emotion signals become symbols, developmentally, however, was anybody's guess at that point.

In the years since that question was first raised, we have come to understand first of all, that contrary to what the student believed, there is a whole class of people, namely infants, who do normally emote with apparently great intensity and whose expressions are organic and not yet symbols separable from their neurobehavioral anchors. Second, we have come to develop some notions about what mediates the transition from imperative behavioral expression of emotion to the more restrained form typically seen in maturity. The latter requires that the expressions of others and the expressions of oneself become assimilated as symbols, even though they remain a component of intense, unrestrained emotion throughout the lifespan. The manner in which the symbols become interiorized and the quality of their interiorization are important matters inasmuch as they interface the larger questions of emotion-cognition interaction, individual variability in emotion expression, personality, and interpersonal relationships.

These are some of the matters in which we have become interested and that are discussed in this chapter. How does the infant progress from an uninhibited,

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