When a new parent catches their baby smiling up at them for the first time, they’re sure to excitedly call everyone into the room.
But nothing spoils the moment more than when a relative points out that they have in fact merely filled their nappy.
Yet according to growing research, babies may actually have the ability to smile as a way of expressing emotion.
Up until the second half of the 20th century, a newborn’s behaviour was largely considered reflexive with scientists assuming that a baby has not yet learnt how to express emotion in social situations.
It is still widely believed that babies only smile in response to bowel and bladder movements, muscle twitches or for no specific reason at all.
But growing research is beginning to suggest that babies may in fact have the ability to give ‘social’ smiles.
According to psychologist Emese Nagy, ‘real’ smiles are known as Duchenne smiles and involve not only the mouth muscle but those around the eyes.
Recent studies have discovered that ‘real’ smiles can be seen during the first few days of a newborn’s life, as a response to someone stroking their cheek or rubbing their belly. Babies may also smile in response to certain tastes and smells.
Newborns also smile twice as much when they are awake further suggesting that social factors could at play.
Nagy writes: “Babies often start moving their cheeks and their brows before they smile, as if focusing their attention on the caregiver’s face. So it is completely possible that these newborn babies actually mean to smile.”
There is still a large number of behavioural studies that need to take place in order to determine whether or not a baby can smile in a social context.
But in the meantime, parents can have fun guessing what it is that their newborn is trying to say…
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