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Elina Birmingham, Tamara Meixner, Daniel Smilek, Grace Iarocci, Jim Tanaka; The Moving Window Technique: A window into age-related changes in children's attention to facial expressions of emotion. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):665. doi: 10.1167/11.11.665.
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Developmental investigations of face perception are needed to gain insight into processing strategies associated with face expertise. Previous studies on eye tracking have shown where children look when exploring a face, yet eye position can be dissociated from the allocation of attention. We developed the Moving Window Technique (MWT) in which the observer explores a face using a mouse-controlled window. Thus, we extend previous work by providing a direct measure of the location of the observer's attention and reveal the attentional strategies children use to decode basic facial emotions. We investigated the exploration strategies of children in a cross-sectional design with four age groups: 5–6 year-olds (n = 20), 7–8 year olds (n = 35), 9–10-year olds (n = 30) and 11–12 year-olds (n = 33). Children explored a degraded face with a window of high-resolution information and were asked to identify which emotion (e.g., happy, disgust, fear or angry) the face expressed. We found an age-related increase in accuracy and decrease in response time (RT) with the facial expression of fear showing the largest improvement in RT. Furthermore, while all groups spent more time exploring the mouth than the eyes, we found an increase in exploration time on the eye region at approximately 11–12 years (see Figure 1), suggesting a link between when children selectively focus on the eyes of faces and when their emotion recognition improves. In summary, the MWT technique is a promising method for investigating age-related changes in attentional strategies employed for the recognition of facial expressions.
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