Emotional Eavesdropping: Infants Selectively Respond to Indirect Emotional Signals


  • This research was supported by grants from the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund (65-2685) to Betty M. Repacholi and NIH (HD-22514) to Andrew N. Meltzoff. We thank Berit Olsen, Nina Petrie, Dawn Kragness, Jacque Mullen, and Mary Wald for their assistance with this research. Portions of these data were presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Atlanta, GA, April 2005, and a conference at Duke University, Durham, NC, May 2005.

concerning this article should be addressed to Betty Repacholi, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, Box 357988, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7988. Electronic mail may be sent to bettyr@u.washington.edu.


Two experiments examined whether 18-month-olds learn from emotions directed to a third party. Infants watched an adult perform actions on objects, and an Emoter expressed Anger or Neutral affect toward the adult in response to her actions. The Emoter then became neutral and infants were given access to the objects. Infants' actions were influenced by their memory of the Emoter's affect. Moreover, infants' actions varied as a function of whether they were currently in the Emoter's visual field. If the previously angry Emoter was absent (Experiment 1) or turned her back (Experiment 2), infants did not use the prior emotion to regulate their behavior. Infants learn from emotional eavesdropping, and their subsequent behavior depends on the Emoter's orientation toward them.