Emotional Learning in Infants


According to their specific goals for children, different cultures provide different child rearing environments and obtain different behavioral outcomes. As a result, the behavior of infants, young children and older individuals varies across cultures. Although we would not argue that these early experiences are completely formative by themselves, there tends to be continuity of socialization over time. The fundamental behavior patterns set into place during early socialization are further elaborated on as the child grows, and they persist into adulthood. Cultures may have markedly different goals and socialization practices. In addition, what is viewed in one culture as normal emotional learning and obviously the correct methods for achieving that learning, may be seen by another culture as strange, deficient or even pathological.

As will also become clear, although there is considerable work on early emotional learning (during the first 6-8 months), there is little work explicitly and directly relating this early learning to later behavior. This paper will conclude with some suggestions for doing so. In particular, it is suggested that early stressful experiences may result in a differential ability to handle stressful experiences later in life. The mechanisms by which this is accomplished are: a) that early child care practices that produce stress in infants, may result in higher levels of cortisol on a long term basis, and b) that certain emotional behaviors may be learned subcortically during the first few months of life, and that these behaviors will persist.

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