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Development of Emotional Expression

Updated on March 23, 2012

Much attention has been given to the development of emotional expression in infants and throughout childhood. There is general agreement that shortly after birth the only distinguishable emotion is a kind of generalized agitation or excitement. Kathrine M. B. Bridges has shown that as the infant becomes older, an increasing number of emotions become apparent. She found, for example, that a 3 month-old infant can express delight and distress; a 6-month-old baby can express anger, disgust, and fear; and a 1 year-old can express elation and affection.

Despite variations in home background and experiences, the capacity for specific emotional reactions appears at about the same age in all children. This suggests that the capacity to display emotions develops by a process of biological maturation and that there is a reliable, biologically determined sequence of development of emotional responsiveness. A 6-month-old infant cannot express jealousy, for example, but toddlers of 15 months are often reported to display such feelings. Although the capacity to express emotions occurs through maturation, the objects or circumstances that are capable of arousing the particular emotion in a specific individual depend upon the learning experiences of the child.

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