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The Development of Infant Detection of Inauthentic Emotion


Appreciating authentic and inauthentic emotional communication is central to the formation of trusting and intimate interpersonal relationships. However, when infants are able to discriminate and respond to inauthentic emotion has not been investigated. The present set of studies was designed to investigate infant sensitivity to three specific cues of inauthenticity: the contextual congruency of the emotion, the degree of exaggeration of the emotion, and the clarity with which the emotion is communicated. In each experiment, 16- and 19-month-old infants were presented with an emotional communication in which an inauthentic cue was present or absent. Infant behavioral responding to the emotional context was observed and coded. In all three experiments, 19-month-old infants, but not 16-month-old infants, detected inauthentic emotional communication and differentially responded to the environment accordingly. These findings demonstrate that infants do not simply take all emotional communication at face value and are sensitive to features of emotional contexts beyond what is expressively communicated by the adult. Possible developmental mechanisms that may account for the observed developmental shift in infant emotional development are proposed, and implications for the present findings on future research in emotion and emotional development are highlighted.

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