Even though they can't talk about emotions, babies feel emotions too! It is pretty easy to tell when a baby is feeling certain emotions; they show us their emotions by doing things like crying, smiling, laughing, and more. Usually babies emotions connect to their basic needs for food, sleep, comfort, excitement, etc. As we grow up, our emotions become more complex, but we still get emotional when our needs aren't being met.
Babies feel some emotions before others. The most basic emotions that babies experience are the six primary emotions.
Can you guess which emotion newborn babies feel first? If you said anger or sadness, you would be right! When babies are first born they are crying and feeling distressed. Distress is sort of a combination of sadness and anger; babies feel distressed when they are hungry, sleepy, etc.
Newborn babies are also capable of feeling happy. We know that babies feel happiness right away because they can smile as soon as they are born. However, it takes about 3-4 months before babies can laugh.
Babies are really excited to learn and explore new things about our world, so they often express happiness when they discover new things. Too much stimulation can make them tired though and their happiness can very quickly turn to distress!
Another thing that helps babies feel happy is being comforted by parents or close loved ones, these social attachments are very important for babies. Social attachment isn't just important for babies—being comforted and supported by loved ones helps people feel happy no matter what age they are!
Babies don't feel fear straight away, it takes about 6-12 months before babies can be scared. Usually babies develop their sense of fear around the same time that they start crawling and walking. Babies don't feel fear often, but they will learn to fear things if they get hurt. For example, if a baby accidentally bumped their head on a table, they may feel scared next time they try to walk near the table.
Disgust is a bit of a tricky emotion for babies. Technically, babies can be disgusted by things like yucky food straight away. But some psychologists argue that being grossed out by certain foods is actually "distaste". Those psychologists say that "disgust" doesn't develop until around five years old when children can imagine gross foods or smells and still feel disgusted. Imagination is a very important part of the disgust emotion.
Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2016). Social Psychology (10th Ed.), published by Wadsworth.
Siegler, R., Eisenberg, N., DeLoache, J., Saffran, J., & Graham, S. (2014). How Children Develop (5th Canadian Edition). New York: Worth Publishers
Try these activities to go along with what you've learned: