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Dev Psychol. 2016 Apr;52(4):572-81. doi: 10.1037/a0040067. Epub 2016 Jan 18.

Developmental changes in the primacy of facial cues for emotion recognition.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


There have been long-standing differences of opinion regarding the influence of the face relative to that of contextual information on how individuals process and judge facial expressions of emotion. However, developmental changes in how individuals use such information have remained largely unexplored and could be informative in attempting to reconcile these opposing views. The current study tested for age-related differences in how individuals prioritize viewing emotional faces versus contexts when making emotion judgments. To do so, we asked 4-, 8-, and 12-year-old children as well as college students to categorize facial expressions of emotion that were presented with scenes that were either congruent or incongruent with the facial displays. During this time, we recorded participants' gaze patterns via eye tracking. College students directed their visual attention primarily to the face, regardless of contextual information. Children, however, divided their attention between both the face and the context as sources of emotional information depending on the valence of the context. These findings reveal a developmental shift in how individuals process and integrate emotional cues.

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