Discrimination of facial expressions by preschool children.

T. A. Walden, T. M. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


This study investigated preschool children's ability to discriminate and categorize facial expressions. Children were shown drawings of persons with expressions of joy, sadness, surprise, and anger and asked to choose from an array of drawings the face that felt "the same" as the standard. The choice array varied on 1 or more features of the standard's expression or had identical key facial elements. In some cases the match had identical facial features and in others the match was a generalized version with no identical features. Children were given various prompts to select the accurate match for the standard. Both with and without prompts children made fewer errors matching happy expressions and matched generalized happy expressions as accurately as identical expressions. Surprised and angry faces were less accurately matched. Providing verbal labels for the faces facilitated matching, particularly for happy and generalized expressions, suggesting that labeling or explicitly providing a conceptual category may aid comparison and/or memory of the expressions. A levels-of-processing effect is suggested to be operating in young children's discrimination and categorization of facial expressions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1312-1319
Number of pages8
JournalChild development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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