The process by which infants and children begin developing the capacity to experience, express, and interpret emotions. The study of the emotional development of infants and children is relatively new, having been studied empirically only during the past few decades. Researchers have approached this area emotional development in preschool age a variety of theoretical perspectives, including those of social constructionism, differential emotion theory, and social learning theory.
Emotional expressivity To formulate theories about the development of human emotions, researchers focus on observable display of emotion, such as facial expressions and public behavior. A child’s private feelings and experiences cannot be studied by researchers, so interpretation of emotion must be limited to signs that can be observed. Between six and ten weeks, a social smile emerges, usually accompanied by other pleasure-indicative actions and sounds, including cooing and mouthing. This social smile occurs in response to adult smiles and interactions.
As infants become more aware of their environment, smiling occurs in response to a wider variety of contexts. They may smile when they see a toy they have previously enjoyed. They may smile when receiving praise for accomplishing a difficult task. Smiles such as these, like the social smile, are considered to serve a developmental function. Laughter, which begins at around three or four months, requires a level of cognitive development because it demonstrates that the child can recognize incongruity. That is, laughter is usually elicited by actions that deviate from the norm, such as being kissed on the abdomen or a caregiver playing peek-a-boo.