Emotional faces capture spatial attention in 5-year-old children.

Kit K. Elam, Joshua M. Carlson, Lisabeth F. Dilalla, Karen S. Reinke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Emotional facial expressions are important social cues that convey salient affective information. Infants, younger children, and adults all appear to orient spatial attention to emotional faces with a particularly strong bias to fearful faces. Yet in young children it is unclear whether or not both happy and fearful faces extract attention. Given that the processing of emotional faces is believed by some to serve an evolutionarily adaptive purpose, attentional biases to both fearful and happy expressions would be expected in younger children. However, the extent to which this ability is present in young children and whether or not this ability is genetically mediated is untested. Therefore, the aims of the current study were to assess the spatial-attentional properties of emotional faces in young children, with a preliminary test of whether this effect was influenced by genetics. Five-year-old twin pairs performed a dot-probe task. The results suggest that children preferentially direct spatial attention to emotional faces, particularly right visual field faces. The results provide support for the notion that the direction of spatial attention to emotional faces serves an evolutionarily adaptive function and may be mediated by genetic mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)754-767
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary psychology : an international journal of evolutionary approaches to psychology and behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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