Baby, You Light-Up My Face: Culture-General Physiological Responses to Infants and Culture-Specific Cognitive Judgements of Adults
Putnick, Diane L.
Bornstein, Marc H.
Date of Issue2014
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Infants universally elicit in adults a set of solicitous behaviors that are evolutionarily important for the survival of the species. However, exposure, experience, and prejudice appear to govern adults' social choice and ingroup attitudes towards other adults. In the current study, physiological arousal and behavioral judgments were assessed while adults processed unfamiliar infant and adult faces of ingroup vs. outgroup members in two contrasting cultures, Japan and Italy. Physiological arousal was investigated using the novel technique of infrared thermography and behavioral judgments using ratings. We uncovered a dissociation between physiological and behavioral responses. At the physiological level, both Japanese and Italian adults showed significant activation (increase of facial temperature) for both ingroup and outgroup infant faces. At the behavioral level, both Japanese and Italian adults showed significant preferences for ingroup adults. Arousal responses to infants appear to be mediated by the autonomic nervous system and are not dependent on direct caregiving exposure, but behavioral responses appear to be mediated by higher-order cognitive processing based on social acceptance and cultural exposure.
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