Wide eyes and drooping arms: Adult-like congruency effects emerge early in the development of sensitivity to emotional faces and body postures
Mondloch, Catherine J.
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Adults’ and 8-year-old children’s perception of emotional faces is disrupted when faces are presented in the context of incongruent body postures (e.g., when a sad face is displayed on a fearful body) if the two emotions are highly similar (e.g., sad/fear) but not if they are highly dissimilar (e.g., sad/happy). The current research investigated the emergence of this adult-like pattern. Using a sorting task, we identified the youngest age at which children could accurately sort isolated facial expressions and body postures and then measured whether their accuracy was impaired in the incongruent condition. Among the child participants, 6-year-olds showed congruency effects for sad/fear, but even 4-year-olds did not do so for sad/happy. Early emergence of this adult-like pattern is consistent with the dimensional and emotional seed models of emotion perception, although future research is needed to test the relative validity of these two models. Testing children with emotional faces presented in the context of body postures and background scenes is an important step toward understanding how they perceive emotions on a daily basis.