Adult perceptions of positive and negative infant emotional expressions

Laura H. Bolzani Dinehart, Daniel S. Messinger, Susan I. Acosta, Tricia Cassel, Zara Ambadar, Jeffrey Cohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Adults' perceptions provide information about the emotional meaning of infant facial expressions. This study asks whether similar facial movements influence adult perceptions of emotional intensity in both infant positive (smile) and negative (cry face) facial expressions. Ninety-five college students rated a series of naturally occurring and digitally edited images of infant facial expressions. Naturally occurring smiles and cry faces involving the co-occurrence of greater lip movement, mouth opening, and eye constriction, were rated as expressing stronger positive and negative emotion, respectively, than expressions without these 3 features. Ratings of digitally edited expressions indicated that eye constriction contributed to higher ratings of positive emotion in smiles (i.e., in Duchenne smiles) and greater eye constriction contributed to higher ratings of negative emotion in cry faces. Stronger mouth opening contributed to higher ratings of arousal in both smiles and cry faces. These findings indicate a set of similar facial movements are linked to perceptions of greater emotional intensity, whether the movements occur in positive or negative infant emotional expressions. This proposal is discussed with reference to discrete, componential, and dynamic systems theories of emotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-303
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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