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Behav Processes. 2019 Jul;164:193-200. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2019.05.006. Epub 2019 May 7.

Children's perception of emotions in the context of live interactions: Eye movements and emotion judgements.

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Brock University, Department of Psychology, 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, L2S3A1, St. Catharines, ON, United States; University of Queensland, School of Psychology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
Brock University, Department of Psychology, 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, L2S3A1, St. Catharines, ON, United States. Electronic address:


Research examining children's understanding of emotional expressions has generally used static, isolated facial expressions presented in a non-interactive context. However, these tasks do not resemble children's experiences with expressions in daily life, where they must attend to a range of information, including others' facial expressions, movements, and the situation surrounding the expression. In this research, we examine the development of visual attention to another's emotional expressions during a live interaction. Via an eye-tracker, children (4-11 years old) and adults viewed an experimenter open a series of opaque boxes and make an expression (happiness, sadness, fear, or disgust) based on the object inside. Participants determined which of four possible objects (stickers, a broken toy, a spider, or dog poop) was in the box. We examined the proportion of the trial in which participants looked to three areas of the face (the eyes, mouth, and nose area), and the available contextual information (the box held by the experimenter, the four objects). Although children spent less time looking to the face than adults did, their pattern of visual attention within the face and to object AOIs did not differ from that of adults. Finally, for adults, increased accuracy was linked to spending less time looking to the objects whereas increased accuracy for children was not strongly linked to any emotion cue. These data indicate that although children spend less time looking to the face during live interactions than adults do, the proportion of time spent looking to areas of the face and context are generally adult-like.


Development; Emotion; Eye-tracking; Facial expressions; Interactive; Social cognition

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