Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Stability and Continuity in Normal Emotional Development between Infancy and Early Childhood: Longitudinal Research

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Stability and Continuity in Normal Emotional Development between Infancy and Early Childhood: Longitudinal Research

Article excerpt


In a longitudinal study, twenty subjects were introduced to twelve stimuli as infants (seven to thirteen months old) and twelve similar stimuli when they were preschoolers in early childhood (three through five years old). Video recordings were made of their emotional expressions and analyzed according to Parameters of Emotional Expression (PEEX) measuring latency, intensity, and duration of emotional expression. Overall latency measures suggest moderate levels of stability but no continuity. Overall duration measures suggest a lack of both stability and continuity. More research is needed to understand these varied results. Interestingly, intensity measures, while lacking stability, appear to be modulating between infancy and early childhood. Those with higher levels of intensity are moving toward lower levels of intensity and vice versa. These results are consistent with Thomas and Chess' "Goodness of Fit" model. Establishing normative data is useful in not only defining normal development but also in understanding deviations from normal development. This information, when coupled with future research, may help provide guidance to primary caregivers, professionals, and social policy makers.


Emotional development consists of age-related changes in emotional reactions. Emotional reactions are expressed through behavior such as facial muscle movements, vocalizations, gestures and bodily postures. Important aspects of emotional development include descriptive research on how emotional expressions change with age, what is typical at different developmental periods, how individuals differ within the normal range, whether or not individuals show stability in emotional expression over time, and whether there is continuity or discontinuity in the development of emotional expression from one developmental period to another.

Information about normal emotional development is important because it may lead to identifying those individuals who are not developing normally, and are at risk for emotional disorders. One way of viewing psychopathology is that it is on a continuous dimension with

normal behavior. (1) From this view, what differentiates normal from abnormal behavior is a matter of degree or quantification. (2) Applying this approach to emotional development requires the description of normal emotional behavior in quantified terms at various periods of development. Once normal patterns of emotional behavior are described over time, early deviations from normal developmental pathways can be identified. This in turn will lead to early identification of children at risk for emotional disorders and possibly guide social policy for early interventions. According to Pollak, "it is clear that learning about emotions proceeds swiftly in nearly all children" (102), and learning may result in either normal or maladaptive patterns of emotional behavior. (3)

Maladaptive patterns develop over time and result from interactions between the child and environmental conditions. (4) The child brings individual differences based on heredity, such as temperament, to the interaction. Environmental conditions include social interactions with others. Developmental systems models explain how individual differences based on heredity (nature) and environmental experiences (nurture) interact over time to influence development. (5) According to Gottlieb's model there are different levels of activity, which influence each other over time. (6) For example genetic activity (first level) influences physiology (second level). Physiological activity, such as neural activity, influences behavior (third level). And behavior has an effect on the environment (fourth level). And each of these influences is bidirectional. Therefore the environment can affect behavior, behavior can influence neural activity (level of physiology), and physiology can influence genetic activity.

Emotional expression is at the behavioral level. …

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