Development of Body Emotion Perception in Infancy: From Discrimination to Recognition

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Research suggests that infants progress from discrimination to recognition of emotions in faces during the first half year of life. It is whether the perception of emotions from bodies develops in a similar manner. In the current study, when presented with happy and angry body videos and voices, 5-month-olds looked longer at the matching video when they were presented upright but not when they were inverted. In contrast, 3.5-month-olds failed to match even with upright videos. Thus, 5-month-olds but not 3.5-month-olds exhibited evidence of recognition of emotions from bodies by demonstrating intermodal matching. In a subsequent experiment, younger infants did discriminate between body emotion videos but failed to exhibit an inversion effect, suggesting that discrimination may be based on low-level stimulus features. These results document a developmental change from discrimination based on non-emotional information at 3.5 months to recognition of body emotions at 5 months. This pattern of development is similar to face emotion knowledge development and suggests that both the face and body emotion perception systems develop rapidly during the first half year of life.