Emotions can be conveyed by facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Children are quick to discover that faces convey emotion, but do they notice when people express emotions using only their bodies or voices? What if the face and body portray different emotions? Which cue will children use? This study examines how children (age 2-7) use faces, postures, and voices to determine others’ feelings.
In our studies, children see pictures or videos on a computer screen of an actress expressing various feelings. Sometimes only her face is shown, sometimes only her body posture is shown, and sometimes only her voice is heard. After each picture or video, we ask children to guess what the person in the video was feeling. In other computer games, the actress’s face and body express different emotions (e.g., she may be smiling, but her posture shows that she is afraid of something). We ask children to decide what she is feeling, and we want to know whether they will choose the emotion expressed in her face or her body language to make their decision.
Our results so far show that children are usually able to guess what a person is feeling based on their facial expressions or body postures. However, up until age 7, they have a much harder time guessing emotions from voices alone.
This study will help us understand how children recognize others’ emotions, and how emotions can be effectively communicated to children.
Learn about other research related to Children's Understanding of Emotion.
This research is conducted by the Emotion Development Lab at Boston College