Culture shapes 7-month-olds’ perceptual strategies in discriminating facial expressions of emotion


Dear families,
 A while back, you participated with your children in our eye-tracking study about how culture shapes the strategies humans use for exploring facial expressions of emotions. As you may remember, this study included not only infants born and raised in the UK, but also infants born and raised in Japan. All together, we tested more than 200 7-month-old infants for this study. We are happy to let you know that the findings of this research project are very interesting and with great impact for the field of social and emotional development.
In brief, our study shows that already by the age of 7-months, infants from Western and East Asian cultures rely on distinct eye fixation strategies in order to extract the visual information needed to discriminate between fearful and happy facial expressions. While the Western infants tend to explore more the entire face, East Asian infants tend to focus primarily on the eye area.
These facial exploration strategies resemble those used by the adults from these cultures, and are also reflected in the use of emoticons. Eastern adults report predominantly changes in expressions through the eyes ˆ_ˆ T_T (happy and sad), while Westerners through the mouth respectively, (-:   )-:   The cultural environment, such as parental practices, may contribute in several ways to the development of these visual exploration differences. Asian mothers use less emotional expressivity and more non-direct body stimulation when interacting with their infants than the Western ones, which could lead to Asian infants’ increased attention to the culturally-specific facial emotional signals in the eye region. This attentional strategy may be further reinforced by other culturally driven parental practices for promoting learning throughout childhood, consolidating into the diverse modes of attention observed in older children and adults. Overall, our findings show that culture heavily shapes the development of perceptual strategies used to process social information from an early stage in life.
These results are published in one of the top scientific journals in the world, Current Biology, and can be read by scientists and the public worldwide.
Words cannot properly express how grateful we are for all your help in accomplishing this project. Without your dedication to participate in our research, these results would not have been possible.
Thank you very much.
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation generously funded this project for which we are very greatful.
The Social and Emotional  Development Lab team

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