Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Ramesh S. Bhatt

Abstract

In humans, the capacity to extract meaning from another person’s behavior is fundamental to social competency. Adults recognize emotions conveyed by body movements with comparable accuracy to when they are portrayed in facial expressions. While infancy research has examined the development of facial and vocal emotion processing extensively, no prior study has explored infants’ perception of emotion from body movements. The current studies examined the development of emotion processing from body gestures. In Experiment 1, I asked whether 6.5-month-olds infants would prefer to view emotional versus neutral body movements. The results indicate that infants prefer to view a happy versus a neutral body action when the videos are presented upright, but fail to exhibit a preference when the videos are inverted. This suggests that the preference for the emotional body movement was not driven by low-level features (such as the amount or size of the movement displayed), but rather by the affective content displayed.

Experiments 2A and 2B sought to extend the findings of Experiment 1 by asking whether infants are able to match affective body expressions to their corresponding vocal emotional expressions. In both experiments, infants were tested using an intermodal preference technique: Infants were exposed to a happy and an angry body expression presented side by side while hearing either a happy or angry vocalization. An inverted condition was included to investigate whether matching was based solely upon some feature redundantly specified across modalities (e.g., tempo). In Experiment 2A, 6.5-month-old infants looked longer at the emotionally congruent videos when they were presented upright, but did not display a preference when the same videos were inverted. In Experiment 2B, 3.5-month-olds tested in the same manner exhibited a preference for the incongruent video in the upright condition, but did not show a preference when the stimuli were inverted. These results demonstrate that even young infants are sensitive to emotions conveyed by bodies, indicating that sophisticated emotion processing capabilities are present early in life.

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