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Journal Article


Dawel A, Palermo R, O'Kearney R, Irons J, McKone E. Dev. Sci. 2014; 18(2): 219-231.


Research School of Psychology, The Australian National University, Australia; ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Australia.


(Copyright © 2014, John Wiley and Sons)






Most developmental studies of face emotion processing show faces in isolation, in the absence of any broader context. Here we investigate two types of interactions between expression and threat contexts. First, in adults, following of another person's direction of social attention is increased when that person shows fear and the context requires vigilance for danger. We investigate whether this also occurs in children. Using a Posner-style eye-gaze cueing paradigm, we tested whether children would show greater gaze-cueing from fearful than happy expressions when the task was to be vigilant for possible dangerous animals. Testing across the 8-12-year-old age range, we found this fear priority effect was absent in the youngest children but developed to reach adult levels in the oldest children. However, even the oldest children were unable to sustain fear-prioritization when the onset of the target was delayed. Second, we addressed the development of 'threat bias' - namely faster identification of dangerous animals than safe animals - in the social context provided by expressive faces. In our non-anxious samples (i.e. with typical-population levels of anxiety), adults showed a threat bias regardless of the expression or looking direction of the just-seen cue face whereas 8-12-year-olds only showed a threat bias when the just-seen cue face displayed fear. Overall, the results argue that some, but not all, aspects of expression-context interactions are mature by 12 years of age.

Language: en


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