Effects of Sex and Parental Status on the Assessment of Infant Faces

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Abstract

To date, research on infant face processing has focused on the appraisal of physical features, but investigations of the effects of sex and parental status on infant emotional expressions have been less prevalent. The present study sought to fill this gap by investigating the effects of sex and parental status on the assessment of infant emotional faces using a community sample of 105 participants (55 female) who were split into 2 groups according to parental status: 53 parents (28 female) comprised those who had a child aged <10 years, and 52 nonparents (27 female) comprised those who did not have children and did not work in a childcare environment. A total of 116 infant faces were presented under 5 emotional conditions (positive, muted positive, neutral, muted negative, and negative). The participants were instructed to rate each facial expression with regard to 3 aspects: pleasure, activation, and intensity. The results revealed a significant effect of group, with nonparents perceiving happy and sad infant faces as more intense than parents. We hypothesize that because parents are frequently exposed to intense emotions of their children, their range of intensity may be wider. Therefore, the parents tend to assign a lower intensity to infant emotional faces. In addition, no differences were found between men and women, regardless of parental status, in any of the aspects that were evaluated (pleasure, activation, and intensity) for any emotional expressions (sad, happy, and neutral). This corroborates findings that mothers and fathers are also often more similar than different in their cognitive responses to children.

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