As you look at your new baby, you probably wonder what he or she is thinking or feeling at that moment. Does crying mean he's sad? Is a smile a true indication that she's happy? While it's tempting to ascribe grown-up feelings and motivations to even very young babies, there are huge differences between adult and baby emotions simply because emotions are tied to cognitive and physical development. Since babies haven't yet gained the experience that adults have, they are unable to experience emotions in quite the same way.
"Generally speaking, emotions begin in infancy in ways that look familiar but aren't true emotional experiences," says Pamela Cole, PhD, a researcher and professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University. For example, the earliest "smile" -- that of a 2- or 3-week-old baby -- is the result of neurological activity, not an indication that the baby is happy, as we might expect. "During the first six months of life, it is not necessarily the case that babies are 'experiencing' emotions," explains Dr. Cole. "For example, when it comes to what we think of as happiness, babies feel the sensation of a good and pleasant state -- which is related to, but not the same as, the concept we have when we say we're happy." For every emotion, the seeds of the emotions we, as adults, feel can be seen in very young babies, but the ability to truly feel those emotions comes later.
Here's a look at how some of your baby's basic emotions -- happiness, anger, and fear -- develop during the first year of life.