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Can facial emotion recognition be rapidly improved in children with disruptive behavior? A targeted and preventative early intervention study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2021

Laura M. Hunnikin
Affiliation:
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK
Amy E. Wells
Affiliation:
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK
Daniel P. Ash
Affiliation:
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Northampton, Northampton, UK
Stephanie H. M. van Goozen*
Affiliation:
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK Department of Clinical Child and Adolescent Studies, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands
*
Author for Correspondence: Professor Stephanie H. M. van Goozen, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK; E-mail: vangoozens@cardiff.ac.uk.

Abstract

An impairment in recognizing distress is implicated in the development and severity of antisocial behavior. It has been hypothesized that a lack of attention to the eyes plays a role, but supporting evidence is limited. We developed a computerized training to improve emotion recognition in children and examined the role of eye gaze before and after training. Children referred into an intervention program to prevent antisocial outcomes completed an emotion recognition task with concurrent eye tracking. Those with emotion recognition impairments (n = 54, mean age: 8.72 years, 78% male) completed the training, while others (n = 38, mean age: 8.95 years, 84% male) continued with their usual interventions. Emotion recognition and eye gaze were reassessed in all children 8 weeks later. Impaired negative emotion recognition was significantly related to severity of behavioral problems at pretest. Children who completed the training significantly improved in emotion recognition; eye gaze did not contribute to impairment or improvement in emotion recognition. This study confirms the role of emotion recognition in severity of disruptive behavior and shows that a targeted intervention can quickly improve emotion impairments. The training works by improving children's ability to appraise emotional stimuli rather than by influencing their visual attention.

Type
Regular Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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