Impact of familiarity upon children’s developing facial expression recognition

Catherine M. Herba, Philip Benson, Sabine Landau, Tamara Russell, Claire goodwin, Erwin Lemche, Paramala Santosh, Mary phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The impact of personal familiarity upon children's developing emotion-processing has been largely ignored in previous research, yet may prove particularly important given the emotional salience of such stimuli and children's greater exposure to familiar others compared to strangers. We examined the impact of personal familiarity upon developing facial expression recognition (FER).

METHODS: Participants included 153 children, 4-15 years old. We employed dynamic expressions of five emotions (happy, sad, anger, fear, disgust), posed by familiar (parents, teachers) and unfamiliar identities.

RESULTS: Accuracy improved with age for recognising sad and fear expressions, but not anger. Children tended to correctly recognise happiness and fear at lower intensities. The impact of familiarity on FER depended on emotion-category. Familiarity did not affect recognition of sad expressions, but children were less accurate at recognising anger, fear, and disgust in familiar individuals compared to strangers.

CONCLUSION: Personal familiarity may exert a distracting effect on children's performance. Findings highlight the importance of incorporating different emotion-categories and familiarity when examining the development of FER. Clinical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-210
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number2
Early online date17 Dec 2007
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008


  • child development
  • emotional expression
  • emotion recognition
  • development
  • facial expression
  • familiar


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