Development of emotional facial recognition in late childhood and adolescence

Authors


Address for correspondence: Kevin S. LaBar, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Room B203, LSRC Building, Box 90999, Durham, NC 27708-0999, USA; e-mail: klabar@duke.edu

Abstract

The ability to interpret emotions in facial expressions is crucial for social functioning across the lifespan. Facial expression recognition develops rapidly during infancy and improves with age during the preschool years. However, the developmental trajectory from late childhood to adulthood is less clear. We tested older children, adolescents and adults on a two-alternative forced-choice discrimination task using morphed faces that varied in emotional content. Actors appeared to pose expressions that changed incrementally along three progressions: neutral-to-fear, neutral-to-anger, and fear-to-anger. Across all three morph types, adults displayed more sensitivity to subtle changes in emotional expression than children and adolescents. Fear morphs and fear-to-anger blends showed a linear developmental trajectory, whereas anger morphs showed a quadratic trend, increasing sharply from adolescents to adults. The results provide evidence for late developmental changes in emotional expression recognition with some specificity in the time course for distinct emotions.

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