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Natalie V. Garcia, K. Suzanne Scherf; Pubertal Development and Emerging Sensitivity to Complex Facial Expressions. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1384. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.12.1384.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Complex facial expressions provide critical social signals about nuanced social emotional behavior (Baron-Cohen et al. 1997). Given the increasing evidence of heightened sensitivity to social signals during adolescence, we evaluated the influence of adolescent development, and pubertal development specifically, on emerging perceptual sensitivity to detect complex expressions. Using an existing model (Scherf et al, 2012), we hypothesized that pubertal development would disproportionately influence sensitivity to perceive complex compared to basic emotional expressions. To evaluate this hypothesis, we tested prepubescent children (6-8 years), adolescents matched on age who varied in pubertal development (11-14 yrs), and sexually mature adults (18-25 yrs) in a perceptual sensitivity paradigm to determine the just noticeable difference in expression between two versions of the same face identity. For each of four expressions (two positively and two negatively valenced), we created 13 morphed versions of the face that included increasingly more perceptual cues to the expression. Participants were presented with pairs of faces (original face vs. morphed face) in a staircase procedure and they determined which of the two faces was more expressive. For both positively and negatively valenced expressions, pre-pubescent children and early pubertal adolescents exhibited higher thresholds for the complex compared to the basic expressions (see attached figure), meaning that they required significantly more perceptual cues to detect complex than basic expressions. However, age-matched adolescents in later puberty and sexually mature adults exhibited comparable thresholds for both types of expressions. These findings support our hypothesis that emerging perceptual sensitivity to detect complex expressions is fundamentally influenced by pubertal development.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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