What is it about?

Parents want their children to be happy and successful but they often think happiness will follow success. I found that infant happiness predicted adult success at age 29. Specifically, happier infants are more likely to go further in their education. Part of the reason why is that infant happiness also predicted increases in IQ from infancy to childhood. Finally, infant happiness was not associated with the families socioeconomic status or infant intelligence.

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Why is it important?

These findings are among the first to highlight how infant emotions (positive and negative) set a foundation for future success. As the study starts in infancy, it begins before formal education begins and accounts for socioeconomic differences. Additionally, I found happiness was associated with changes in IQ from infancy to childhood. Finding changes to IQ over time is uncommon but this suggests that positive emotions are linked to increases in cognitive abilities. Although many other factors are important to consider when thinking about children's education, happiness appears to be getting overlooked.


I hope people think more about how important early emotional experiences are during infancy and childhood. Please note, I examined how often infants experienced happiness not the intensity of emotions (e.g., aiming for the best day ever). In other words, this study is not about trying to raise the happiest child all the time or denying negative emotions. Further, the things that are going to make children happy are not complex or expensive (as infant IQ and family socioeconomic status did not predict infant happiness). Thus, a safe and caring environment that supports exploration is likely to build infant happiness that sets a foundation for future success.

John Coffey
Sewanee The University of the South

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This page is a summary of: Cascades of infant happiness: Infant positive affect predicts childhood IQ and adult educational attainment., Emotion, July 2019, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/emo0000640.
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