Pupil responses to dynamic negative facial expressions of emotion in infants and parents

Evin Aktar*, Cosima A. Nimphy, Mariska E. Kret, Koraly Pérez-Edgar, Susan M. Bögels, Maartje E.J. Raijmakers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Observing others’ emotions triggers physiological arousal in infants as well as in adults, reflected in dilated pupil sizes. This study is the first to examine parents’ and infants’ pupil responses to dynamic negative emotional facial expressions. Moreover, the links between pupil responses and negative emotional dispositions were explored among infants and parents. Infants’ and one of their parent's pupil responses to negative versus neutral faces were measured via eye tracking in 222 infants (5- to 7-month-olds, n = 77, 11- to 13-month-olds, n = 78, and 17- to 19-month-olds, n = 67) and 229 parents. One parent contributed to the pupil data, whereas both parents were invited to fill in questionnaires on their own and their infant's negative emotional dispositions. Infants did not differentially respond to negative expressions, while parents showed stronger pupil responses to negative versus neutral expressions. There was a positive association between infants' and their parent's mean pupil responses and significant links between mothers’ and fathers’ stress levels and their infants’ pupil responses. We conclude that a direct association between pupil responses in parents and offspring is observable already in infancy in typical development. Stress in parents is related to their infants’ pupillary arousal to negative emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22190
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number7
Early online date21 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to the parents and infants who participated in this study and to Dirk Jan Vet from the University of Amsterdam for the technical support with the current experiment. This research was supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) with a VENI grant (#016.Veni.195.285) to Evin Aktar, a VIDI grant (#016.Vidi.185.036) to Mariska E. Kret, and a VICI grant (#453‐09‐001) to Susan M. Bögels. The contribution of Mariska E. Kret was additionally supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 (H2020 European Research Council) Program for Research and Innovation Grant (#804582)

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Developmental Psychobiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • infancy
  • negative emotion
  • parental stress
  • pupillometry
  • temperament


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