Background: This study examined the effects of age and two novel factors (intensity and emotion category) on healthy children's developing emotion-processing from 4 to 15 years using two matching paradigms.
Methods: An explicit emotion-matching task was employed in which children matched the emotion of a target individual, and an implicit task whereby participants ignored the emotive facial stimulus and matched identity. Four intensities (25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%) for each of five emotion categories (sad, anger, happy, fear, and disgust) were included and provided a novel avenue of emotion-processing exploration.
Results: Increasing age significantly improved children's performance on both tasks, particularly for fear and disgust. Age was not associated with more subtle processing (i.e., lower intensity of expression). When explicitly matching emotion expressions, increasing intensity was associated with improved performance. When matching identities (implicit emotion-matching), emotion category and intensity influenced task performance. Sex effects were minimal.
Conclusions: In children, age, facial expression intensity and emotion category are important for predicting accuracy on emotion-processing tasks. Emotion category and expression intensity differentially affect performance on explicit and implicit emotion-processing tasks.