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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 27: Reading Emotions

Baby’s Brain in Week 27

Having a stellar day? Your baby probably knows it. Even at this young age, your child is picking up on your emotional cues—so whether you receive big praise at work or rotten news from a friend and you react to it, Baby can tell. Through a series of studies that involved habituation and dishabituation, researchers learned that between five and seven months, babies recognize the difference between happy, surprised, fearful, and sad faces and voices.

What the Research Shows

We know from previous studies that infants are drawn to human faces. To test whether babies are aware of various feelings revealed on faces, researchers showed several babies (all around their six-month birthdays) a series of pictures of a person exhibiting, for example, a happy face. At first, each baby would show interest, but after seeing face after face with happy expressions, each baby became bored, habituating to all of those smiling faces. (Remember the pattern research from week 17 that dealt with habituation, as well?)

Then each baby was presented with a new image, perhaps a picture of a person making a sad face. Each baby dishabituated—he now showed interest again, alert to the difference between the sad look and all those happy looks. The researchers conducted that same procedure using surprised, fearful, and sad faces, and the babies were keenly aware of each new expression.

Then the researchers went further, using voices that expressed happiness, surprise, fear, or sorrow. Through habituation and dishabituation trials, baby after baby heard a sad voice. At first the babies in the study were interested in the sound, but eventually they habituated to the sad voice and became bored. The researchers then introduced a fearful voice, and each baby dishabituated, intrigued by the new vocal emotion of fear.

Week 27 Brain Booster

Reading emotions is a high priority in babies’ learning repertoire. By reading emotions, they tune into the people around them without needing to understand every word they hear.

Since babies are drawn to notice emotional expressions, parents need to embrace this interest by using words to describe emotions, whether joy, frustration, disgust, disappointment, or love, to name only a few: “Daddy’s feeling sad because Grandpa’s sick” or “Look at you! You can put your toes in your mouth! Good for you!”

When you’re feeling an emotion and talking about it, make sure that your face, voice, and words mesh. Baby will be confused if you say that you’re frustrated while using a fake smile. Babies look for consistencies in their world, even in regard to emotional expression. Make conversation about feelings part of your daily parenting routine. By doing so, you’re validating your child’s innate interest in emotions and furthering her intelligence about them.

Your Week 27 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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