Young Infants' Generalization of Emotional Expressions: Effects of Familiarity

Arlene S. Walker-Andrews, Sheila Krogh-Jespersen*, Estelle M.Y. Mayhew, Caroline N. Coffield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


From birth, infants are exposed to a wealth of emotional information in their interactions. Much research has been done to investigate the development of emotion perception, and factors influencing that development. The current study investigates the role of familiarity on 3.5-month-old infants' generalization of emotional expressions. Infants were assigned to one of two habituation sequences: in one sequence, infants were visually habituated to parental expressions of happy or sad. At test, infants viewed either a continuation of the habituation sequence, their mother depicting a novel expression, an unfamiliar female depicting the habituated expression, or an unfamiliar female depicting a novel expression. In the second sequence, a new sample of infants was matched to the infants in the first sequence. These infants viewed the same habituation and test sequences, but the actors were unfamiliar to them. Only those infants who viewed their own mothers and fathers during the habituation sequence increased looking. They dishabituated looking to maternal novel expressions, the unfamiliar female's novel expression, and the unfamiliar female depicting the habituated expression, especially when sad parental expressions were followed by an expression change to happy or to a change in person. Infants are guided in their recognition of emotional expressions by the familiarity of their parents, before generalizing to others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)842-851
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2011


  • Bimodal expressions
  • Emotions
  • Facial recognition
  • Infant development
  • Parental emotional expressions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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