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Infants Can Spot a Fake Cry Baby, New Study Shows

Oct 17, 2013 12:20 PM EDT

Infants as young as 18-months old are able to analyze body language and facial expressions to determine whether a person's emotions are genuine, according to new research from Concordia University.

Infants can detect whether a person's emotions are justifiable in a particular context, the researchers determined, after placing subjects in front of an actor instructed to present emotional reactions that went with or against certain pantomimed expressions.

"Our research shows that babies cannot be fooled into believing something that causes pain results in pleasure. Adults often try to shield infants from distress by putting on a happy face following a negative experience. But babies know the truth: as early as 18 months, they can implicitly understand which emotions go with which events," said Diane Poulin-Dubois.a psychology professor at Concordia University.

She said that the research shows that babies are capable of understanding how the meaning of an experience is directly related to the expression that follows it.

The study tested 92 infants between 15 and 18-months old. In one of the scenarios presented to the babies, an actor would appear to be sad when given a desirable toy, where in another the actor appeared to experience pain and gestured having a hurt finger.

At 15 months, infants did not appear to show a significant difference in reaction to these events. But by 18 months, the infants were clearly able to detect the false emotional acts; they spent more time scrutinizing the actor and more time investigation how others in the room were reaction to the dubious information.

The 18-month-old babies also only showed empathy when the actor rightfully appeared to be in pain or sad.

Sabrina Chiarella, a psychology researcher also involved with the study, said the indiscriminate show of concern to sad faces is a an adaptive behavior.

The ability to detect sadness and then react immediately has an evolutionary implication. However, to function effectively in the social world, children need to develop the ability to understand others' behaviors by inferring what is going on internally for those around them."

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