Motion or emotion: Infants discriminate emotional biological motion based on low-level visual information

Image credit: Infant Behavior and Development


Infants’ ability to discriminate emotional facial expressions and tones of voice is well-established, yet little is known about infant discrimination of emotional body movements. Here, we asked if 10-20-month-old infants rely on high-level emotional cues or low-level motion related cues when discriminating between emotional point-light displays (PLDs). In Study 1, infants viewed 18 pairs of angry, happy, sad, or neutral PLDs. Infants looked more at angry vs. neutral, happy vs. neutral, and neutral vs. sad. Motion analyses revealed that infants preferred the PLD with more total body movement in each pairing. Study 2, in which infants viewed inverted versions of the same pairings, yielded similar findings except for sad-neutral. Study 3 directly paired all three emotional stimuli in both orientations. The angry and happy stimuli did not significantly differ in terms of total motion, but both had more motion than the sad stimuli. Infants looked more at angry vs. sad, more at happy vs. sad, and about equally to angry vs. happy in both orientations. Again, therefore, infants preferred PLDs with more total body movement. Overall, the results indicate that a low-level motion preference may drive infants’ discrimination of emotional human walking motions.

Infant Behavior and Development, 57, 101324
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Yujia Peng
Yujia Peng
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Yujia Peng is an assistant professor at the School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University.