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Mental Health - Pediatrics and Child Health

Facial Expressions of Threat Influence Perceived Gaze Direction in 8 Year-Olds
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Author: Gillian Rhodes et al.

by Gillian Rhodes, Brooke Addison, Linda Jeffery, Michael Ewbank, Andrew J. Calder

Adults show reciprocal influences between the perception of gaze direction and emotional expression. These facilitate the understanding of facial signals, because the meaning of one cue can vary considerably depending on the value of the other. Here we ask whether children show similar reciprocal influences in the perception of gaze and expression. A previous study has demonstrated that gaze direction affects the perception of emotional expression in children. Here we demonstrate the opposite direction of influence, showing that expression affects the perception of gaze direction. Specifically, we show that the cone of gaze, i.e., range of gaze deviations perceived as direct, is larger for angry than neutral or fearful faces in 8 year-old children. Therefore, we conclude that children, like adults, show reciprocal influences in the perception of gaze and expression. An unexpected finding was that, compared with adults, children showed larger effects of expression on gaze perception. This finding raises the possibility that it is the ability to process cues independently, rather than sensitivity to combinations, that matures during development. Alternatively, children may be particularly sensitive to anger in adult faces.