Linking actions and emotions: Evidence from 15- and 18-month-old infants

Authors

  • Betty M. Repacholi

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
      Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Betty M. Repacholi, Department of Psychology, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7988, USA (e-mail: bettyr@u.washington.edu).
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Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Betty M. Repacholi, Department of Psychology, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7988, USA (e-mail: bettyr@u.washington.edu).

Abstract

This study investigated 15- and 18-month-olds' understanding of the link between actions and emotions. Infants watched a videotape in which three adult models performed an action on an object. Each adult expressed the same emotion (positive, negative, or neutral affect) on completion of the action. Infants were subsequently given 20 seconds to interact with the object. Infants were less likely to perform the target action after the models' expressed negative as opposed to positive or neutral affect. Although infants' imitative behaviour was influenced by the models' emotional displays, this social referencing effect was not apparent in their more general object-directed behaviour. For instance, infants in the negative emotion condition were just as quick to touch the object and spent the same amount of time touching the object as did infants in the neutral and positive emotion conditions. These findings suggest that infants understood that the models' negative affect was in response to the action, rather than the object itself. Infants apparently used this negative emotional information to appraise the action as one that was ‘undesirable’ or ‘bad’. Consequently, infants were now loath to reproduce the action themselves.

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