Current Research Studies


Infant Differential Responding to Discrete Emotions

Humans have a wide range of ways to respond to others' emotional communication. For example, if one encounters a sad individual, one might respond much differently than when encountering an angry individual. This set of studies looks at how infants respond to others' emotional communication, and  how these responses develop throughout infancy and early childhood. 
Below is a 24-month-old infant observing an experimenter's emotional reaction to learning that her toy is broken. We observe how the child responds to the experimenter and to the toy. 
Infants participating in this research interact with a trained adult in our lab on the UC Merced campus. During this interaction, the adult displays an emotion (e.g., joy, sadness, fear) toward an object in the room. We observe how the child responds to the object and the adult, and how children's responses differ based on the emotion displayed by the adult. 

Understanding Others' Emotions

This project is looking deeper into how much infants appreciate others’ emotions, specifically the events preceding an emotional expression. For example, do infants understand that positive emotions usually follow the attainment of a goal? Or that sadness typically follows the loss of a desired goal? In this study, children observe two individuals interacting in emotion-elicting contexts, such as struggling to share a toy. The eliciting context is then paired with an emotional expression that is likely to be expected or unexpected given the context. We observe the child's reaction to determine whether the infant has an expectation for different emotional antecedent-consequent pairings. 

Talking About Emotions

One way to understand individuals' thoughts and beliefs of emotions is by examining how they attend to and describe emotional contexts. This study incorperates both college students and parent-child pairs to examine how individuals talk about various emotions. Participants for this research study complete activities such as describing images in a picture book or that are displayed on a computer screen.

Emotions and Intentions

Emotions play an important role in understanding others’ intentions. Observing another person interact emotionally with the world helps us both predict that person’s future actions and interact with that person in an adaptive manner. This study focuses on infants’ ability to understand how another person’s emotions toward objects at an earlier time can assist one's future interactions with that individual to respond in an appropriate fashion. 

The Effect of Walking on Psychological Development

Specific transitions in development can spark change in a wide variety of psychological domains. One such transition is the onset of walking. Our lab has found that a number of psychological changes occur when infants begin to walk. For example, in comparison with same-aged crawling infants, walking infants demonstrate increased language development, ability to follow communicative cues, representation of objects and problem-solving skills. Our lab is investigating how the onset of walking is related to changes in each of the above abilities to better understand the functional consequences of motoric transitions on psychological development. 

Below is an example of a naturalistic observation of how parents and infants interact. This is a walking infant who has engaged in extensive exploration of one of our lab rooms. 

Participation in this research can include a visit to our lab on the UC Merced campus, an observation in the child's home, or simply the parent completing questionnaires in the comfort of their home. 

Infant Language Environments

This project seeks to explore infants' developing language environment. The child's language environemnt has a profound effect on learning new words and taking part in interpersonal interactions. Participating families are mailed an audio recording device that captures 16 hours of the infant's day. Families mail the recorder back to us and we use computer software to analyze the recording for a number of aspects, such as the number of words the infant heard, the number of words the infant said, the average sentence length, and how frequently the infant and parent engaged in conversational turn taking. 

The child above is wearing a specially designed vest that holds the language recorder (the recorder is kept in the rectangular pocket on the front of the vest). This unobstrusive device does not affect infants' typical behavior. Parents can turn off the device if sensitive informaiton is provided and can tell us to edit portions of the recording that they do not wish to be analyzed. Participating familes can also receive descriptive reports of their children's language environment at the conclusion of the study. 



Infant Detection of Inauthentic Emotion

This project concerns the processes fundamental to the development of the perception of authentic and inauthentic emotion in communication with a significant other. Important as this aptitude for detection of authentic displays is for social interaction and personality development, it has almost exclusively been studied in older children and adults.

This project focuses on four aspects of the manifestation of authentic and inauthentic displays:

  • contextual appropriateness
  • appropriate level of intensity
  • the masking of emotional communication
  • experiences that generate an “adaptation level” about how authentic or inauthentic an individual typically is in his or her emotional communication

Below is a 19-month-old infant responding to her mother's distress. The child is able to tell that the parent is not actually hurt and responds by smiling and laughing at the parent. 

Participation in this project typically consists of the child and adult visiting our lab on the UC Merced campus. The child might interact with a trained adult or watch a short video. In each activity the adult expresses an emotion toward a novel object or event, and we  observe how the child responds to the object and the adult.