The influence of emotional body posture on adults' and 8-year-olds' perception facial expressions
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The present set of experiments was designed to investigate the development of children's sensitivity of facial expressions observed within emotional contexts. Past research investigating both adults' and children's perception of facial expressions has been limited primarily to the presentation of isolated faces. During daily social interactions, however, facial expressions are encountered within contexts conveying emotions (e.g., background scenes, body postures, gestures). Recently, research has shown that adults' perception of facial expressions is influenced by these contexts. When emotional faces are shown in incongruent contexts (e.g., when an angry face is presented in a context depicting fear) adults' accuracy decreases and their reaction times increase (e.g., Meeren et a1. 2005). To examine the influence of emotional body postures on children's perception of facial expressions, in each of the experiments in the current study adults and 8-year-old children made two-alternative forced choice decisions about facial expressions presented in congruent (e.g., a face displayed sadness on a body displaying sadness) and incongruent (e.g., a face displaying fear on a body displaying sadness) contexts. Consistent with previous studies, a congruency effect (better performance on congruent than incongruent trials) was found for both adults and 8-year-olds when the emotions displayed by the face and body were similar to each other (e.g., fear and sad, Experiment l a ) ; the influence of context was greater for 8-year-olds than adults for these similar expressions. To further investigate why the congruency effect was larger for children than adults in Experiment 1 a, Experiment 1 b was conducted to examine if increased task difficulty would increase the magnitude of adults' congruency effects. Adults were presented with subtle facial and despite successfully increasing task difficulty the magnitude of the. congruency effect did not increase suggesting that the difference between children's and adults' congruency effects in Experiment l a cannot be explained by 8-year-olds finding the task difficult. In contrast, congruency effects were not found when the expressions displayed by the face and body were dissimilar (e.g., sad and happy, see Experiment 2). The results of the current set of studies are examined with respect to the Dimensional theory and the Emotional Seed model and the developmental timeline of children's sensitivity to facial expressions. A secondary aim of the series of studies was to examine one possible mechanism underlying congruency effe cts-holistic processing. To examine the influence of holistic processing, participants completed both aligned trials and misaligned trials in which the faces were detached from the body (designed to disrupt holistic processing). Based on the principles of holistic face processing we predicted that participants would benefit from misalignment of the face and body stimuli on incongruent trials but not on congruent trials. Collectively, our results provide some evidence that both adults and children may process emotional faces and bodies holistically. Consistent with the pattern of results for congruency effects, the magnitude of the effect of misalignment varied with the similarity between emotions. Future research is required to further investigate whether or not facial expressions and emotions conveyed by the body are perceived holistically.