Abstract

Processing of Emotional Facial Expressions (EFE) in Paediatric Anxiety: Are Child Faces More Noteworthy than Adult Faces?

Anxiety is characterized by an increased attention toward threatening information. Anxious adults displayed such attentional biases in tasks involving both implicit and explicit evaluation of Emotional Facial Expressions (EFE). This study investigated whether anxiety can disturb these two levels of information processing in children processing emotional faces. Second, we also intended to examine whether anxious children exhibit comparable responses to adult and child EFE, as children are particularly confronted to peers’ faces in their daily life. To this aims, a sample of children with high levels of anxiety on SCARED and STAI-C scales were compared to healthy children ranging in age from 6 to 9 years. They performed a forcedchoice paradigm, consisting in judging the age (adult/child), the gender (male/ female) and the emotion (anger/happiness) of faces presented one by one on a screen. For each condition, correct answers rates (CA) and Reaction Time (RT) were examined for anxious and non-anxious groups. Results showed that children performed generally more accurately for judging emotion as compared to age or gender. However, this effect was moderated by the face’s categories, as all children answered with higher accuracy to adult faces in the gender condition, and to children faces in the age condition, meaning they identify more accurately their peers but the sexual characters are more distinguishable on adult faces. All participants were more efficient to identify anger than happiness, but healthy children answered faster to adult angry faces in all conditions, while anxious children did not show this effect and processed more accurately anger on children faces as compared to adult ones. These results suggest that anxious children paid more attention to their peers’ disapproval, while non-anxious children focused rather on adults’ disapprobation. Further research might examine the role of the social standing and need of social approval in paediatric anxiety.


Author(s):

Khira El Bouragui



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