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Reading emotional faces in deaf and hard-of-hearing and typically hearing children

Reading emotions from others’ faces strengthens social relationships. But how is that for children with hearing loss? Can they learn to read faces just as easily as hearing children? The study by Yung-Ting Tsou and colleagues shows that daily "exposure" in the social environment in which emotions take place is essential for the development of this aspect of emotional intelligence.

Yung-Ting Tsou, Boya Li, Mariska E. Kret, Inês Sabino da Costa, and Carolien Rieffe
28 December 2020
Read the paper in Emotion

Reading emotions from other people’s facial expressions is an important skill that guides social interactions. However, children with hearing loss may develop this skill differently given their limited auditory input and atypical emotion socialization. In the study, we aimed to understand whether and how children’s hearing status affects three processing levels involved in reading emotional faces: gaze patterns, physiological arousal, and interpretation.

In a matching task, children were presented with isolated emotional faces, and their eye gazes and pupil diameter were measured by an eye-tracking device. Results showed that children with and without hearing loss both paid more attention to the eye region than to nose and mouth regions. Yet, only in children with hearing loss did we observe a contrast between happy and nonhappy faces in physiological arousal and interpretation tendency: Nonhappy facial expressions were more arousing and were confused more often than happy expressions.

This may reflect that children with hearing loss are less experienced in processing nonhappy expressions due to limited access to daily social environment. The results highlighted the importance of looking into the qualitative differences between typical and atypical development.

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