3 Tutorials that teach Emotional Development
Take your pick:
Emotional Development

Emotional Development

Author: Erick Taggart
This lesson will define and explore emotional development.
See More
Introduction to Psychology

Analyze this:
Our Intro to Psych Course is only $329.

Sophia college courses cost up to 80% less than traditional courses*. Start a free trial now.


Source: Toddler; Public Domain http://mrg.bz/xEv2JI Child; Public Domain http://mrg.bz/VbTE07

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello, class.

Today we're going to be talking about another aspect of the development, especially the early development of people, and that's emotional development. Emotional development is important on a number of different levels.

First, it's important to social development, because emotion is a sort of social cue. Our facial expressions are one way that we communicate with others. So we can tell what we're thinking or feeling without necessarily even saying anything.

It's also important biologically, in that it links directly to our physical arousal. So it has certain ties to adaptive behaviors that help us to survive. For example, when we feel fear, then we start to have a physical arousal and a rush of adrenaline, which helps us to realize that it's time to run, to fly. Whereas when we're angry, we have similar feelings of arousal, but that's a time that we might want to fight something.

So you see, those biological connections help us to perform certain kinds of useful. Behaviors

It's also important in an evolutionary sense, because there's a certain hereditary basis for emotions that we pass on from person to person. This is why, as we'll see, there's a certain regular development in people over time, throughout emotional development.

It's particularly important evolutionarily to infants, because certain emotions, like happiness or smiling, help babies to survive, because they make them more appealing, to help out. The parents are more likely to help out a smiling baby, or to pay attention to them, then they would a non-smiling baby. Conversely, a crying baby elicits feelings in an adult, of annoyance or unhappiness, so it would encourage a person to try to help the child out more. So you see how those kinds of emotions help a person to survive. And overall, help the species to survive.

Let's take a look at some of these key points in the development of emotion.

In the beginning of a child's life, which is to say from 0 to 8 months of age, an infant is only really able to show interest or excitement. They aren't actually able to show any different kinds of emotions. Which is to say, they're not biologically programmed in. So any kind of displays of emotions during this time are generally not genuine in any kind of way. For example, when a child smiles during this time, it's probably not because they're actually intending to show an emotion of happiness, but rather it's probably related to some kind of physiological thing, like the child might have gas.

It isn't until 8 to 12 months that a child develops what's called a social smile. A social smile is a genuine social response to something that's occurring within the environment. It's also during this time that a child begins to develop their range of emotions. Within that first year of life, a child is able to express things like joy, anger, and sadness. So these kinds of things develop relatively quickly.

A psychologist named Robert Plutchik developed an idea, or refined an idea, that there are eight basic emotions that all people have, and all people are able to express and generally recognize. And these emotions are fear, surprise, , sadness disgust, anger, anticipation, joy, and trust or acceptance. These can vary in intensity to produce all the other kinds of emotions that we have.

For example, if someone feels anger, they can also feel a lesser degree of annoyance, or a greater degree, which is rage.

And also, these eight basic emotions are almost all universally recognized. Which is to say, there's some cultural variation in how they're expressed. Very little. But generally when people see, especially the facial expressions, related to things like disgust, anger, surprise, or happiness, then they're able to recognize it, regardless of their culture, or the culture of the person that's expressing it.

And it's also important to note that the smile is probably the most universally recognized symbol of emotion.

Another important element in emotional development comes from the biological side of psychology, and that's a mirror neuron. A mirror neuron is a brain cell that becomes activated, either when a person performs an action, or when another person is observed performing the same action. Essentially, it's kind of the idea of monkey see, monkey do. But there's a psychological basis for this. It helps children to mimic different actions that they see others performing, and to learn those kinds of behaviors. This doesn't necessarily mean the child has to perform them, to see them. In fact, mirror neurons will fire when they see an action, even if the child isn't performing it themselves.

This helps children in later life, in later childhood development, to develop empathy, which is an understanding of others. So they're able to sense what other people are thinking and feeling. The psychologist Ramachandran says that this idea of mirror neurons linked to empathy can also help children to develop self-awareness later on in life. Which is to say that they realize that they are a separate person that thinks and feels, apart from other kinds of people.

So this mirror neuron, biologically, is able to help in our social and emotional development, especially early child.

Notes for "Emotional Development"


(0:00-3:09) Early Emotional Growth

(3:09-4:26) 8 Basic Emotions

(4:26-5:47) Mirror Neurons

Terms to Know

Emotional Development

Important aspect of development, tied closely with maturation, important in social interaction with others, and survival.