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Catherine Mondloch, Danielle Longfield; Sad or Afraid? Body Posture Influences Children's and Adults' Perception of Emotional Facial Displays. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):579. doi: 10.1167/10.7.579.
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Adults' perception of facial displays of emotion is influenced by context (body posture; background scene), especially when the facial expressions are ambiguous (Van den Stock et al., 2007) and the emotion displayed in the context is similar to that displayed in the face (Aviezer et al., 2008). We investigated how context influences children's perception of rapidly presented emotional expressions. Adults and 8-year-old children (n=16 per group) made two-alternative forced-choice judgments about sad and fearful facial expressions. Each facial expression was posed by 4 models (2 males) and presented with both congruent and incongruent body postures that were either aligned or misaligned with the face. Participants were instructed to ignore the body. In the aligned condition, accuracy was higher when face and body were congruent versus incongruent, p <.001, with a larger effect in children (M difference = .314) than in adults (M difference = .125). In the misaligned condition, the effect of congruency was small and did not differ between adults (M = .05) and children (M = .07). These results suggest that body posture may have a larger influence on 8-year-olds' than adults' perception of emotional expressions, at least when holistic processing is facilitated by alignment. However, adults were more accurate (M = .93) than children (M = .69) on control trials in which isolated faces were presented. Thus, larger context effects for children may be related to task difficulty. In follow-up studies we are testing adult participants with subtle facial expressions (e.g., 70% sad, 40% sad) and child and adult participants with happy and sad facial expressions–expressions to which sensitivity develops early and that differ in both valence and intensity, unlike sad and fear which differ only in intensity. Collectively these results will provide novel insights about how context influences children's sensitivity to facial expressions.
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