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Early social reasoning: Infants’ use of emotional expressions as a source of social knowledge

Platten-Brown, L; (2012) Early social reasoning: Infants’ use of emotional expressions as a source of social knowledge. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Humans, like their close primate relatives, live in social networks based primarily on family group membership. They are therefore born into a world which is rich in potential teachers and learning experiences. Research has shown that even in infancy we are adept at interpreting subtle social signals that we observe in the interactions that occur around us. Social referencing studies provide evidence that infants utilise emotional expressions as a source of feedback and knowledge regarding stimuli in their environment (e.g. Feinman & Lewis, 1983; Sorce, Emde, Campos & Klinnert, 1985; Hornik & Gunnar, 1988), and looking-time studies have indicated infants’ can not only to encode preference information from emotional expressions to predict agents’ object-targeted actions (e.g. Kuhlmeier, Wynn & Bloom, 2003), but also form expectations regarding social affiliations on the basis of interactions they observe. However, no research has investigated infants’ ability to utilise emotional expressions in the social domain to encode information about third-party social affiliations. The present thesis aimed to address this shortfall in current understanding and provides evidence that by 14 months infants successfully predict the outcome of social interactions on the basis of the valence of emotional displays of one actress toward another, thereby extending upon results in the object domain (Gergely, Egyed & Királyi, 2007). Mediating factors influencing infants’ processing of attitude information are identified, including the presence or absence of ostensive cues, the availability of alternative preference information and the relative frequency of information presentation. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for our understanding of not only infants’ emerging social processing skills but also for theories on learning, specifically Csibra and Gergely’s proposed Pedagogical System (2006), and future research directions regarding the processes underlying infants’ differential information processing in ostensive and non-ostensive learning episodes are outlined.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Early social reasoning: Infants’ use of emotional expressions as a source of social knowledge
Language: English
Keywords: Emotional expressions, Pedagogy, Social reasoning, Infants
UCL classification: UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1353040
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