Top of Page


Links:      •  Self Test
                •  Print Ready Version
                 •  Chapter Index


  The First Two Years:
Psychosocial Development
- Early Emotions -

Growth & Development

Emotional Development

   Ψ  The ethological perspective argues that infants are evolutionarily endowed with basic social predispositions & skills that contribute to their development.

   Ψ  Infant's crying, for example, is an innate response that signals caregivers about the baby's needs. Complementary adult behaviors have evolved that serve to nurture & comfort the child.

   Ψ  Infants also engage in "attachment behaviors" that motivate the behavior of parents to care for the vulnerable infant.

   Ψ  Newborns appear to have only two identifiable emotions: distress & contentment.

   Ψ  Age When Emotions Occur

AgeEmotional Response
BirthCrying ( distress ) - Contentment
6 weeksSocial Smile
3 monthsLaughter - Curiosity
4 Full, responsive smiles
4- 8 Anger
9 - 14Fear of social events ( strangers, separation )
18 monthsSelf-awareness: Pride - Shame - Embarrassment

   Ψ  Smiles of pleasure appear during the first days of life (called "endogenous" smiles). Social smiles (called "exogenous" smiles), to the human face or voice appear at about 6 weeks. One of the most potent stimuli for smiling & laughter are events that the infant can control.

   Ψ  Infant emotions become more differentiated and distinct between 6- & 9-months of age. They also show greater selectivity in their emotions, and also the ability to suppress competing emotions

   Ψ  Stranger wariness is evident when an infant no longer smiles at any friendly face & cries if an unfamiliar person moves too close, too quickly. Stranger wariness appears fleetingly around 6 months of age , although it is not always observed and at full force by 10 to 14 months,

   Ψ  Separation anxiety is expressed in tears & anger when the beloved caregiver leaves. Separation anxiety appears from 6-9 months of age, peaks around 14 months, then diminishes. Separation anxiety is an indication of the child's attachment to the caregiver.

   •  Separation anxiety occurs as babies begin to understand their own selfhood - or understand that they are a separate person from their primary caregiver. As babies begin to understand that they can be separated from their primary caregiver, they do not understand that their caregiver will return, nor do they have a concept of time. This, in turn, causes a normal & healthy anxious reaction. Separation anxiety typically begins around 8 months of age & increased until 13-15 months, when it begins to decline. If it persists after 3 years of age, it is considered an emotional disorder.

   •  Separation Anxiety Disorder should not be confused with Separation Anxiety, which occurs as a normal stage of development for healthy, secure babies.

It's a Mickey Mouse World , isn't it?

   Ψ  By 12-months infant emotions are livelier, and more vital.  Emotional reactions occur more quickly, intensely and persistently.

   Ψ  The emotional expressions of others begin to assume new meaning because infants engage in social referencing; the using the emotional reactions of others as an interpretive guide to understanding one's own emotional reaction.

   Ψ  The emergence of self-awareness makes possible many new emotions, including confidence, shame, guilt, envy, pride, embarrassment. These "complex emotions" must await the development of a self (self-concept).

Growth & Development
Robert C. Gates