Module 2 Notes
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3

Emotions and the Brain

Section 3, Article 3 - A young child’s ability to express and regulate his or her emotions is directly connected to their brain development, specifically that of the limbic system and the cerebral cortex (). As the brain matures, the child becomes more skilled in expressing and regulating their emotions. The early experiences of a child serve to activate or prune neurons, including the pathways used in the expression of emotion. If an infant experiences abuse, neglect, or other stressors the neural connections used for fear or anxiety are strengthened. However, even if a child is genetically programmed toward socially-anxious emotions (based on the behavior of his or her birth mother), when he or she is placed in a home where care is highly responsive, the tendency toward social-anxiety dissipates (). As the brain repeatedly connects the neurons involved in the expression of an emotion, there is a more immediate emotional response to the stimulus. During infancy, primary emotions such as fear, anger, disgust, happiness, and surprise are experienced. As the brain develops, further emotional development is seen through helping and empathy (). Infants experience primary emotions, ones which animals also experience, such as fear, anger, disgust, happiness, and surprise. Because the more “rudimentary” areas of the brain develop earlier in life, these emotions tend to be expressed sooner than secondary emotions, which require social learning, such as shame, guilt, and embarrassment ().

Children exposed to stress in infancy may experience long-term deficits in their ability to regulate emotions (). This is caused by the excessive release of cortisol, which causes the hypothalamus to develop improperly. Caregivers are again a crucial factor to an infant’s development by providing a safe, responsive, and loving environment for children (). Parents must be taught to respond properly to the needs of an infant – especially if an infant is “difficult.”

Though the emotions experienced by an infant are influential to their development, it is not a determiner of their temperament. A baby’s emotions and self-regulation are directed by a baby’s temperament, which is genetically inborn within the child. In contrast, personality such as kindness and truthfulness are cultivated through nurture and learning opportunities. Easy babies often retain an easy temperament throughout life; however, research indicates that difficult babies can move into easier temperaments if provided with exceptional and patient caregiving (). Similarly, another study found infants who experienced sub-par care (insecure attachment) were distinctly less social and less adept at exploring than the average infant. Therefore, while temperament tends to be enduring, outcomes can be changed (; ).

Emotional Development
Theories of Psychosocial Development