Throughout their development, children must learn to recognize many different facial expressions. In addition, they have to learn labels for them (like, “happy”, “sad”, and “afraid”). Researchers still don’t know exactly how children learn to recognize and label all the different expressions that they see. In this study, we examine how children ages 2-4 years recognize new expressions they have never seen before.
To find out, we show children groups of three photographs, with each showing a person making an expressive face. Some of the expressions are recognizable emotions (like a happy or a sad face) and some of them are unrecognizable expressions (like a face with puffed out cheeks). We ask children to choose the face that matches either a real emotion word (“happy”) or a nonsense word (“tolen”).
Our results so far show that children can use the process of elimination to match a word they have never heard before with an expression they have never seen. This might help children learn labels for new expressions as they grow older.
This study may help adults better understand how children learn about new emotions.
Learn about other research related to Children's Understanding of Emotion.
This research is conducted by the Emotion Development Lab at Boston College