The Psychobiology of Affective Development

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

5
Facial Communication of Emotion in Early Infancy
Theodore J. Gaensbauer
Susan Hiatt
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

The study of emotion has been given an enormous boost by the investigations of Ekman ( 1972, Ekman and Friesen, 1975), Izard ( 1971, 1977) and their colleagues indicating that between seven to nine discrete emotions have distinct facial features, which can be identified with high reliability across widely varying races and cultures. These findings have been cited as evidence that the emotions so identified are universal in the human species ( Ekman & Oster, 1979; Izard, 1977); although the validity of this hypothesis continues to be debated, the work of Ekman and Izard has also served to stimulate renewed interest in the ontogeny of emotions. If facial expressions of emotions are innate, should not the facial patterns of discrete affects described for adults also be seen in infants? If so, at what age do they first appear? Even more importantly, when in development is there evidence that specific facial expressions reflect meaningful emotional experience or communication?

These questions provide the framework for the research on emotional ontogeny to be described in this chapter. The finding in infants of facial patterns of discrete emotion similar to those described for adults would provide support for the hypothesis that emotional differentiation is primarily the result of innate, phylogenetically programmed neural systems, as postulated by differential emotions theory (Izard, 1977). The failure to find such emotion-specific patterns of facial expression in the infant, while not devastating for the theory, would at least raise questions as to whether emotional differentiation is not primarily a function of cognitive development and social learning, perhaps grafted on to relatively simple, bi-directional dimensions of physiological arousal ( Mandler, 1975; Schachter & Singer, 1962) or positive-negative hedonic tone ( Brenner, 1974; Kagan, 1978).

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