Babies can read each others’ moods by five months of age, study finds

Researchers have found that by five months of age, newborns can determine whether other children are happy or sad based on vocal inflection.
Fri Jun 28, 2013 - 1:00 pm EST

SALT LAKE CITY, June 27, 2013 ( – A new study shows that babies can detect and understand the emotional status of other babies at a younger age than ever believed.

A study published in the journal Infancy found that newborns can read the moods of their fellow infants by the time they are five months old.

Ross Flom of Brigham Young University studied 40 babies from Florida and Utah, playing a recording of another baby making happy or sad noises. The study group could see two monitors, one with a picture of a happy baby and the other with a sad child.


By five months, babies could match the sound they heard with the appropriate picture.

“These findings indicate that by 5 months of age, infants detect, discriminate, and match the facial and vocal affective displays of other infants,” the study's abstract states.

The babies' cries were not from the babies depicted on screen, something that strengthens Flom's findings that the matching took place due to recognizing the cry's emotional content.

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“Newborns can’t verbalize to their mom or dad that they are hungry or tired, so the first way they communicate is through affect or emotion,” Flom said. “These findings add to our understanding of early infant development by reiterating the fact that babies are highly sensitive to and comprehend some level of emotion.”

Previous studies have found that newborns can understand adult emotions by seven months.

Flom conducted the study, which was first published online in March, with Mariana Vaillant-Molina and Lorraine E. Bahrick, both of Florida International University.


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