Study says babies know when you're faking
In a study published in Infancy: The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies, psychology researchers concluded that infants can detect whether a person's emotions match the context of a situation. Based on their research, they believe that babies understand how the meaning of an experience is directly linked to the expressions that follow.
To perform the research, researchers analyzed 92 infants at the 15 and 18-month age mark. In a lab setting, the babies watched as an actor went through several scenarios in which emotional reactions went with or against pantomimed experiences. In one scenario, the researcher showed a mismatched emotion by being sad when presented with a desired toy. In another, she expressed an emotion that went with the experience by reacting in pain when pretending to hurt her finger.
At 15 months, the infants did not show a significant difference in reactions to these events, showing empathy through their facial expressions to all sad faces. This shows that the understanding of the link between a facial expression following an emotional experience is an ability not yet developed at this age. At 18 months, however, the infants clearly detected when facial expressions did not match the experience. They spent more time looking at the researcher's face and checked back more frequently with the caregiver in the room with them so that they could gauge the reaction of a trusted source. They also showed empathy toward the person only when her sad face was justified; meaning only when the researcher was sad or in pain when she was supposed to be.
The researchers are now examining if having infants exposed to an individual who is emotionally unreliable affects their willingness to help or learn from that individual.