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Emotion. 2013 Dec;13(6):1030-40. doi: 10.1037/a0033560. Epub 2013 Aug 5.

Do you see what I see? Sex differences in the discrimination of facial emotions during adolescence.

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Faculty of Psychology and Education.


During adolescence social relationships become increasingly important. Establishing and maintaining these relationships requires understanding of emotional stimuli, such as facial emotions. A failure to adequately interpret emotional facial expressions has previously been associated with various mental disorders that emerge during adolescence. The current study examined sex differences in emotional face processing during adolescence. Participants were adolescents (n = 1951) with a target age of 14, who completed a forced-choice emotion discrimination task. The stimuli used comprised morphed faces that contained a blend of two emotions in varying intensities (11 stimuli per set of emotions). Adolescent girls showed faster and more sensitive perception of facial emotions than boys. However, both adolescent boys and girls were most sensitive to variations in emotion intensity in faces combining happiness and sadness, and least sensitive to changes in faces comprising fear and anger. Furthermore, both sexes overidentified happiness and anger. However, the overidentification of happiness was stronger in boys. These findings were not influenced by individual differences in the level of pubertal maturation. These results indicate that male and female adolescents differ in their ability to identify emotions in morphed faces containing emotional blends. The findings provide information for clinical studies examining whether sex differences in emotional processing are related to sex differences in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders within this age group.

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