Differential Behavior Regulation in Infant Social Referencing and Implications for the Development of Sympathy
From an early age, infants pay attention to how people emotionally respond to ambiguous stimuli and use this as information to guide their behavior. Recent research has also shown that infants are able to use indirect emotional information (i.e. emotional cues directed at a third party) to regulate their behavior towards strangers and objects. However, all of this research has looked at how anger affects infant’s behavior. In my study, I looked at how 18 month old infants changed their behavior towards an object after seeing an adult researcher react with anger, sadness, or neutral affect. Infants were given a toy to explore and then an adult showed them one particular way to play with the toy. In response to this, another researcher (the emoter) reacted with one of the aforementioned emotions directed towards the accomplice experimenter, and demonstrated another way to play with the toy. Infants were then given back the toy and their imitative behavior was observed. After doing this three times with three different toys, the emoter pretended to hurt herself on the way out of the room in order to test the infant’s empathetic response. This study hopes to address how infants change their behavior in response to an other-related emotion (sadness) as opposed to a self-related emotion (anger), which could have direct negative consequences for the infant. This could speak to how infant’s develop and act on sympathy as well as the possible mechanisms behind social referencing.
Social Referencing; Sympathy
dissertation or thesis