Development of Emotional Expression and Sensitivity

Most conceptualizations of early socioemotional development place the social nature of emotions as a centerpiece of early development. Emotional availability, a relational construct, is considered central to healthy socioemotional development (Easterbrooks & Biringen, 2000). According to Emde (1980), emotional availability refers to responsiveness and attunement to another's signals, goals, and needs. Stern (1985) called it a "dance"—those captivating images of parent and infant immersed in interaction, oblivious to the outside world. Such pictures highlight the extent to which emotions are part of the fabric of complex relationships, not simply sensations to be regulated. Emotions, in fact, "are apt to be a sensitive barometer of early developmental functioning in the child-parent system" (Emde & Easterbrooks, 1985, p. 80).

Face-to-Face Social Interaction

An important early social context in which the organizing influence of emotions is apparent is face-to-face social interaction with an adult partner. This activity becomes prominent by the time infants are 2 to 3 months of age, when they are capable of sustained alertness and display preferential responses to familiar people, and it continues until about 6 or 7 months, after which more active kinds of infant-parent interactions ensue with the baby's developing locomotor skills (Tronick, 1989). Face-to-face play involves short but intense episodes of focused interaction between an infant and an adult (typically the mother) in which each partner entertains the other with smiling, vocalizing, animated facial expressions, and other social initiatives and responses. The goal of this activity is the establishment and maintenance of well-coordinated exchanges that elicit mutual pleasure, although these synchronous exchanges occur only about 30% or less of the time that mothers and infants interact with each other (Tronick, 1989; Tronick & Cohn, 1989). These sequences of affective synchrony and mismatches offer opportunities for infants to learn important lessons about the possibilities of reparation of dyssynchronous states (Kohut, 1977; Lyons-Ruth, Bronfman, & Parson, 1999; Tronick, 2001). For example, rules of communication within and across interactions, preferred interactive tempo and intensity, and ways to convert negative affect into neutral or pleasurable states can be learned. As a consequence, other developmental skills, such as learning to self-regulate

(including managing emotional arousal) and to repair dys-synchronous interaction, are also fostered by these intensive social exchanges (Gianino & Tronick, 1988).

Although adults take the lead in face-to-face interaction by sensitively scaffolding their initiatives to accord with the infant's readiness to respond (Kaye, 1982), infants also participate actively through their animated emotional expressions, approach and withdrawal, and patterns of gazing that signal their interest in social play. In this respect, emotions organize early social interaction by structuring the ebb and flow of social activity and by providing signals by which each partner can respond in a coordinated fashion to the other. Moreover, changes in infant behavior during play over the early months also indicate changes in the emerging social expectations that guide the baby's behavior. Infants begin to expect, for example, that others will spontaneously interact with them, and when their mothers are instructed to be impassive and expressionless, their offspring respond with social elicitations (e.g., brief smiles, increased vocalizing and reaching) followed, eventually, by withdrawal (Cohn, Campbell, & Ross, 1991; Cohn & Tronick, 1983). Even more, infants begin to expect to receive responses from their partners that are contingent on their own behavior: They respond with positive animation to responsive partners but turn away from partners who are comparably active but not responsive to the infant's initiatives (Murray & Trevarthen, 1985; Symons & Moran, 1987). Taken together, these behaviors suggest that within the first 6 months, the infant is learning about the rules of social interaction and is developing a rudimentary awareness of her or his own efficacy in evoking responses from other people.

Later in the first year, infants respond differently also to the appearance of their mothers and fathers in social play, reflecting the development of discriminative expectations for specific familiar partners (Lamb, 1981). According to Tronick (2001), two qualities regulate the uniqueness of relationships that infants have with different social partners: implicit relational knowing (e.g., "how we interact together") and thickness. Implicit relational knowing derives from repeated patterns of affect in interaction with a partner; thickness refers to the number of different time-activity contexts of interactions (e.g., play, feeding, bathing, putting to bed). As infants develop, then, much of implicit relational knowing is increasingly unique to specific relationships, which become more differentiated.

The Role of Distress-Relief Sequences

Face-to-face play is not the only context in which social expectations develop. From repeated experiences of distress and its subsequent relief from a caregiver's nurturant response, infants begin to expect to be soothed after the adult arrives. This is revealed in the baby's anticipatory quieting, after fussing occurs, to the sound of the caregiver's footsteps (Gekoski, Rovee-Collier, & Carulli-Rabinowitz, 1983; Lamb & Malkin, 1986). By the latter part of the first year, therefore, infants have begun to learn about the behavioral propensities of others, as well as the self's efficacy in provoking these behaviors, and this makes the baby a more competent and self-aware social partner. These early social expectations also shape emotional responding because an awareness of the contingency between one's actions and another's response is a highly reliable elicitor of smiling and laughter and can contribute to the alleviation of distress (Watson, 1972, 1979). Consequently, an infant's early experiences of face-to-face play and the relief of distress contribute significantly to the social expectations and positive emotional responses to caregivers that set the stage for the development of attachment relationships.

The Growth of Meaning, Reciprocity, and Competence in Emotional Development

Throughout the first year, infants develop a more acute sensitivity to the emotions of others as they are expressed in vocal intonation, facial expression, and other behavior. Because these various modes of emotional expression typically covary, infants have many opportunities to learn about the behavioral propensities of someone with, say, an angry vocal tone, or the facial expressions that accompany the sound of laughter. By the second half of the first year, the emotions of others have become affectively meaningful to the baby through processes of conditioning, emotion contagion, or of empathy (Saarni et al., 1998). That is, the emotions of others become meaningful to the baby because of the actions with which they are associated and the resonant emotional responses that they evoke in the infant. Equally important, an awareness of the emotions of others in circumstances that evoke emotion in the infant herself contributes to a growing realization that other people, like oneself, are subjective human entities.

Later in the first year, the growth of crawling, creeping, and walking introduces new challenges to parent-infant interaction and socioemotional growth (Bertenthal & Campos, 1990; Biringen, Emde, Campos, & Appelbaum, 1995; Campos et al., 2000; Campos, Kermoian, & Zumbahlen, 1992). On one hand, self-produced locomotion changes the child, who, with the capacity to move independently, becomes more capable of goal attainment, as well as of wandering away from the parent, acting in a dangerous or disapproved manner, and experiencing the varieties of emotion and feelings of self-efficacy that these activities inspire. Parents commonly report that this developmental transition is accompanied by their child's increased expressions of affection but also of anger and frustration, and offspring also become more adept at monitoring the parents' whereabouts (Campos et al., 1992; Campos et al., 2000). On the other hand, self-produced locomotion changes the parent, who must now more actively monitor the child's activity by using prohibitions and sanctions and expecting compliance from offspring. The testing of wills that ensues from self-produced locomotion not only is a challenge to the emotional quality of the parent-child relationship, but also provides a catalyst to the infant's early grasp of mental states in others that are different from the child's own.

This development is important because by 9 to 10 months of age infants begin to show other indications of a dawning awareness of mental states in others. For example, they strive to achieve joint visual attention with those with whom they are communicating, and their protocommunicative acts (e.g., gestures, vocal appeals) and imitative activity each increase in sophistication. Taken together, infants are beginning to understand that others are intentional agents with potentially shared subjective orientations toward objects and events that are worth understanding. This dawning psychological understanding changes how they interact with others and their interpretations of why people act as they do (Bretherton, McNew, & Beeghly-Smith, 1981; Carpenter, Nagell, & Tomasello, 1998; Tomasello, Kruger, & Ratner, 1993).

Social Referencing

Another reflection of the infant's growing realization that others have mental states is the emergence of social referencing, in which infants respond to events (particularly novel or ambiguous events) based on the emotional expressions that they detect in other people (Campos & Stenberg, 1981; Feinman, 1992; Saarni, Mumme, & Campos, 1998). In a manner similar to how adults take their cues from others nearby when responding to unexpected or uncertain situations, the sight of an adult's reassuring smile or terrified gaze (especially if it is accompanied by the appropriate vocalizations and other behavior) can significantly influence whether a young child approaches or withdraws from an unfamiliar person or novel object. Social referencing is commonly believed to arise from the infant's active search for clarifying information from another's emotional reactions, although it may also be derived less deliberately when the child shares a new experience or seeks reassurance from a caregiver (Baldwin & Moses, 1996). In either case, social referencing is important for socioemotional development because it indicates that infants are competent at obtaining and enlisting emotional information from others into their own responses to events, and it reflects the infant's growing awareness of accessible subjective states in others.

Although its direct effects on an infant's behavior can be modest and transient, social referencing in the first year is the vanguard of the variety of more sophisticated referencing activities that enable young children to acquire social understanding from the experiences that they share with adults. During the second year, for example, social referencing permits toddlers to compare their own evaluation of events with those of others, enabling them to begin to understand conflicting as well as shared mental states. Somewhat later, social referencing becomes an important avenue to conscience development as behavioral standards are conveyed through the parent's nonverbal affective reaction to approved or disapproved activity, which may be referenced by a young child even prior to acting in a disapproved way (such as the toddler who watches the parent's face carefully while reaching sticky fingers into the VCR; Emde & Buchsbaum, 1990; Emde, Johnson, & Easterbrooks, 1987). Social referencing can also be a source of pride and self-confidence as children consult their parents' approving expressions after succeeding at a difficult task (Stipek, 1995). In these ways, the infant's dawning awareness of subjectivity in others, as well as interest in understanding these mental states, transforms the development of social understanding and self-awareness.

As social and emotional capabilities develop in concert, they are mutually influential. Emotional connections to familiar people provide a foundation for developing attachments and social understanding, and early social experiences cause the generalized emotional systems of early infancy to become more discretely and functionally organized (Saarni et al., 1998).

Emotion Regulation

Social development and emotional development are interwoven also in how emotions become enlisted into social competence. One way this occurs is through the growth of skills of emotion regulation (Thompson, 1994). In infancy, of course, parents assume the prominent role in managing the emotions of offspring. They do so by directly intervening to soothe or pacify the child, as well as by regulating the emotional demands of familiar settings like home or child care (e.g., by creating predictable routines), altering how the young child construes an emotionally arousing experience (e.g., by smiling reassuringly when a friendly but unfamiliar adult approaches the child), and later by actively coaching young children on the expectations or strategies of emotion management. Moreover, young children's emotions are managed because of the security or confidence that they derive from their relationships with caregivers, such as in a baby's anticipatory soothing to the sound of the parent's arrival. Infants and toddlers who can anticipate reassurance from the arrival of their caregivers are aided by the belief that, with the adult's assistance, emotions are neither uncontrollable nor unmanageable (Cassidy, 1994; Nachmias, Gunnar, Mangelsdorf, Parritz, & Buss, 1996).

In the early years, however, young children are also developing rudimentary means of managing their own emotions. This can be observed initially in the comfort seeking of a distressed infant or toddler, but young children quickly appreciate that emotions can also be managed by making active efforts to avoid or ignore emotionally arousing situations, through reassuring self-talk, by obtaining further information about the situation, and in other simple ways (Braungart & Stifter, 1991; Calkins & Johnson, 1998; Grolnick, Bridges, & Connell, 1996). Developing skills of emotion regulation are built on slowly maturing brain regions that also contribute to the young child's capacities to inhibit impulsivity and that enable rule-governed behavior (Diamond, Werker, & Lalonde, 1994; Rothbart, Posner, & Boylan, 1990). Moreover, individual differences in temperamental "inhibitory control" emerge early and are related to conscience development (Kochanska, Murray, & Coy, 1997). Not surprisingly, therefore, the growth of emotion regulation is part of a constellation of developing capabilities that are related to social competence and behavioral self-control, and successful emotion regulation, within a cultural framework, is seen as a central developmental task of early childhood.

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