Parents, next time you lose your keys, there’s no need to throw a temper tantrum as a new study has suggested that your toddler will still trust you, even if you choose to grin and bear it.
Concordia psychology researchers showed 71 18-month-old toddlers a series of events during which an actor had an object stolen from her. In one scenario, infants then saw the actor display sadness while in the other she remained neutral. Afterwards, the infants interacted with the actor in several basic tasks.
Lead author Sabrina Chiarella said that because the research subjects can’t yet speak in full sentences, researchers monitor their eye movements and look for non-verbal reactions.
Chiarella added that they saw infants in both groups spend an equal amount of time looking at the scene and engaging in similar levels of hypothesis testing, looking back and forth between the actor’s empty hand and face to their parents to make sure everything was okay.
However, while the infants displayed less concern for neutral than sad individuals after a negative event, they were just as willing to help and imitate them and be guided by their emotional expressions as they were for those individuals who expressed appropriate sadness after a negative experience.
It seems toddlers are willing to give stoic people the benefit of the doubt, suggests Chiarella, adding that they understand that sadness is the more appropriate reaction but also that a neutral response doesn’t necessarily mean a person is untrustworthy.
The experiment confirms that, at 18 months, infants consider a neutral expression just as appropriate as a sad expression following a negative experience. And because the infants showed greater empathy towards those who expressed sadness, the study further demonstrated that toddlers are sensitive to the significance of emotional expressions following negative events.
The study appears in the journal Infant Behavior and Development.