This research was designed to explore the predictors of anticipatory smiles and to examine the hypothesized relationship between this socially expressive behavior and measurements of later social emotional outcome. In addition to documenting an increase in infants’ use of anticipatory smiles from 9 to 12 months of age in Study 2, we uncovered positive associations between early social smiling (6 months) and anticipatory smiles (8 and 10 months) in Study 1, and between anticipatory smiles (8, 9 and 10 months) and preschool measures of prosocial behavior (30 months) in both studies.
In Study 2, we found that infants engaged in higher levels of anticipatory smiling during social interactions with a tester at 12 months than at 9 months. These results corroborate earlier documentation of a developmental increase in the proportion of infants using anticipatory smiles between 8 and 10 months, a proportion which did not change between 10 and 12 months (Venezia et al., 2004
). Striano and Bertin (2005)
found that the proportion of infants who engaged in joint attention looks during play that involved a smile increased between 5 and 9 months of age, but did not examine the temporal pattern of this smiling. Kuroki (2007)
, found an increase in initiating looks to the caregiver while smiling between 9 and 12 months of age. Further, Jones and Hong (2005)
found that joint attention looks involving smiling to an attentive, responsive mother occurred immediately following active toy play. These results indicate an early integration of affect into joint attention episodes, which has stabilized by 12 months of age (Adamson & Bakeman, 1985
; Adamson & Russell, 1999
; Hobson, 2006
; Mundy & Sigman, 2006
In Study 1, infants who engaged in higher proportions of smiling in the still-face procedure subsequently displayed higher levels of anticipatory smiling. That is, infants who used smiling to attempt to regain the attention of a familiar, unresponsive partner (the parent) tended to communicate positive affect about an object spectacle to an unfamiliar social partner (the tester). This demonstrates continuity between early dyadic (two people) and later triadic (two people and an object) positive emotional communication (see Striano & Rochat, 1999
). As there was a correlation between face-to-face and still-face smiling (r
= .47, p
= 0.03), it is possible that the infant’s still-face smiling could in turn reflect the influence of an emotionally positive mother (Weinberg & Tronick, 1994
; Cassel et al., 2007
). Thus, an unknown continuity in caregiving could have led infants to smile more at 6 months and to engage in more anticipatory smiling. However, while early smiling was observed with the mother, anticipatory smiling was measured with an unfamiliar adult. Furthermore, there was a significant inter-age correlation between anticipatory smiling at 8 and 10 months of age. Taken together, this suggests stable individual differences in the propensity to initiate positive affective communication with different partners.
Recent evidence indicates that highly sensitive maternal caregiving predicts later infant joint attention initiations involving a smile (Hane & Fox, 2006
). A potential explanation for the association between joint attention smiling and caregiving behavior is that infants’ relative degree of experience with early rewarding social stimuli may contribute to a continued predilection to initiate positive social interactions with others (Goldsmith & Rogoff, 1997
; Vaughan et al., 2003
; Wachs & Chen, 1986
). Another explanation is that anticipatory smiling reflects a temperamental proclivity toward exuberance, sociability, positive affective response to novelty, and approach behaviors (Fox, Henderson, Rubin, Calkins, & Schmidt, 2001
; Mundy, 1995
; Mundy & Willoughby, 1996
). There is, in fact, also support for an association between maternal ratings of infant positive temperament and joint attention episodes accompanied by smiles (Nichols, Martin, & Fox, 2005
Both Study 1 and Study 2 document the predictive validity of anticipatory smiling. In Study 1, anticipatory smiles were positively correlated with infants’ scores on the ASBI “Express” subscale, a preschool measure of emotional expressivity, which is a component of social competence (Hogan et al., 1992
). In Study 2, anticipatory smiling predicted scores on the ITSEA “Competence” subscale, a widely used measure that assesses a combination of childhood characteristics deemed important in achieving successful social interactions. Many of the items in the ASBI “Express” subscale are similar to items in the ITSEA “Competence” subscale (e.g., “Plays games and talks with other children,” versus “Plays well with other children,” and “Understands feelings, like when they are happy, sad, or mad,” versus “Talks about other people’s feelings (like ‘Mommy mad’)”).
Variability in the capacity to engage in anticipatory smiling with others may be affected by a motivational imperative to share positive experiences. Anticipatory smiling, then, may reflect or support a proclivity to engage prosocially and sympathetically with others. Episodes in which positive affect is experienced with regard to a shared object of reference may provide an interactive structure in which infants are able to learn that affective experiences can be shared with others (Mundy et al., 1992
; Mundy & Willoughby, 1996
). This is consistent with the finding that 12-month-old infants do not only seem to expect adults to joint their attentional focus to an object but also to share their interest in relation to that object (Liszkowski, Carpenter, Henning, Striano, & Tomasello, 2004
). Therefore, it seems that infants who come to expect emotional intersubjectivity in social interactions may engage in more infant initiated affect sharing (i.e., anticipatory smiling). However, this scenario is most likely only if infants experience consistent contingent positive responsiveness to their anticipatory smiling bids.
As expected, there was no association between reactive smiling and social outcome. Reactive smiling – smiling produced while gazing at an adult – is an established feature of an infants’ communicative repertoire from early infancy (Yale et al., 2003
). It is possible that joint attention involving reactive smiling actually captures an interpersonal event that is temporally connected to, but distinct from, the act of IJA. That is, perhaps the gaze shift from the object to the social partner reflects a bid for joint attention but the smile that occurs afterward is merely indicative of a dyadic social exchange, one that comprises most early face-to-face interactions.
As in similar studies of typically developing infants (Van Hecke et al., 2007
; Sheinkopf et al., 2004
), we found no association between IJA frequency and parent-rated social competence. IJA, however, has been associated with reduced risk for externalizing behavior in studies of typically developing and at-risk children (Sheinkopf et al., 2004
; Van Hecke et al., 2007
). Anticipatory smiling was the only joint attention variable that showed a relationship – at any age – with still-face smiling at 6 months and ASBI or ITSEA scores at 30 months. These associations reached significance at the 8- and 10-month observations in Study 1 and the 9-month observation in Study 2. These data taken together with an earlier report demonstrating an increase in infants’ use of anticipatory smiling specifically between 8 and 10 months (Venezia et al., 2004
) support the notion that this time period is one that reflects early differences between infants in the development of social engagement.
We found a positive association between anticipatory smiles and social outcome indicating that anticipatory smiling may capture a particular aspect of referential communication that more reliably relates to optimal social outcome than overall IJA. Van Hecke et al. (2007)
documented a positive relationship between higher-level joint attention behaviors (i.e., IJA with conventional gestures) at 12 months of age and later parent-reported social competence on the ITSEA. The similarity between this finding and the positive association found between anticipatory smiling and social competence in the current study speaks to a potential social-cognitive dimension or pathway. The emergence of infants’ gestures during episodes of IJA may signify an awareness that others have intentions that may be affected by the infants’ social-signals (e.g., Bretherton, 1991
; Carpenter et al., 1998
; Charman et al., 2000
; Tomasello, 1995
). Likewise, Jones and Hong (2001)
found that infants who showed evidence of intentional gestural/vocal communication were more likely to use anticipatory smiles. Conventional gestures, such as those measured in Van Hecke et al. (2007)
, comprised only .5% and 3.9% of the current sample of IJA episodes at 9 and 12 months, respectively, while anticipatory smiles occurred in 17% and 25% of the episodes, respectively. Therefore, anticipatory smiles may reflect one aspect of social-cognitive development in infancy, evident even before infants’ consistent use of gestural communication.
Taken together, the findings reported here illustrate a developmental progression. Positive emotion expressed during the still-face was related to anticipatory smiling; anticipatory smiling (and not still-face smiling or reactive smiling) was associated with later social outcomes. These associations suggest a line of continuity between infants’ emotional expressivity during early social situations and later adaptive relatedness with others. Anticipatory smiles may signify an awareness of the separate attentional state and affective availability of the other (Mundy & Sigman, 2006
; Venezia et al., 2004
), which may or may not imply a cognitive awareness of others’ intentionality. It is likely that the acquisition and development of anticipatory smiles in infancy reflect a multitude of processes (e.g., caregiver/scaffolding, social-cognitive, social-motivational) that together contribute to childhood social and emotional competencies. This would be consistent with the notion that different dimensions of joint attention (e.g., IJA with eye contact only, IJA with conventional gestures, IJA with anticipatory smiles, and IJA with reactive smiles) may reflect unique, as well as common, processes (Mundy et al., 2000
; Mundy & Sigman, 2006
; Mundy & Van Hecke, 2008
). Likewise, as the multifaceted nature of joint attention skills is increasingly recognized and understood, it becomes important to consider the unique contributions of each type to child outcome.
Overall, the initial evidence gathered from the two studies presented in this report suggests that anticipatory smiles may be a fruitful area of study. Future investigations attempting to examine early determinants of social competence and affective expressivity would do well to move beyond parent-report questionnaires and include larger samples of children. This report extends prior research by providing initial evidence that speaks to the role of anticipatory smiles in early socioemotional development. Anticipatory smiles are positive social bids that are associated with earlier expressive initiations and later social competence.