Babies React to Emotions on TV

According to 2 recent studies, babies as young as 12 months old "appear to ‘read’ and respond to TV actors’ emotions. Both researches observed 32 infants. In the first study, the babies were 12 months old. In the second, the babies were 10 months old.

The babies watched a 20-second, taped segment wherein a woman focused on a toy (e.g. a 12-inch spiral letter, or a garden house adapter connected to a plastic valve). In each trial, the actress used different expressions and vocal signals to convey 3 different emotions: fear, happiness or neutrality, while talking about the toy before her. The same description of the toy was used in each trial.

The two objects on-screen, plus a third "distracter" toy were visible to the baby during the video. When the video ended, a researcher pushed the objects within the baby’s reach.

The results of this experiment showed that 12 month old babies reached for the target objects less and showed more negative facial expressions during the negative emotion trial, than during the neutral trial.

The babies’ behavior during the positive trial was not considerably different from their behavior during the neutral trial.

In contrast, the 10-month old babies showed no significant difference (changes in behavior) during any of the trials.

The studies indicate that "even at one year of age, babies are very aware of the negative emotions around them," says co-author Donna Mumme, PhD, a psychology professor at Tufts University. "And they don’t have to be engaged in the exchange to process the information," Mumme adds.

The study, which was published in the January/February issue of Child Development, suggests that 12-month-old babies can distinguish "when an emotion is being directed toward one object and not to another," says Mumme.



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