Associations between brain and behavioral processing of facial expressions of emotion and sensory reactivity in young children

Chris L. Porter, Cortney A. Evans-Stout, Peter J. Reschke, Larry J. Nelson, Daniel C. Hyde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to decode and accurately identify information from facial emotions may advantage young children socially. This capacity to decode emotional information may likewise be influenced by individual differences in children's temperament. This study investigated whether sensory reactivity and perceptual awareness, two dimensions of temperament, as well as children's ability to accurately label emotions relates to the neural processing of emotional content in faces. Event related potentials (ERPs) of 4 to 6 year-old children (N = 119) were elicited from static displays of anger, happy, fearful, sad, and neutral emotion faces. Children, as a group, exhibited differential early (N290) and mid-latency (P400) event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to facial expressions of emotion. Individual differences in children's sensory reactivity were associated with enhanced P400 amplitudes to neutral, sad, and fearful faces. In a separate task, children were asked to provide an emotional label for the same images. Interestingly, children less accurately labeled the same neutral, sad, and fearful faces, suggesting that, contrary to previous work showing enhanced attentional processing to threatening cues (i.e., fear), children higher in sensory reactivity may deploy more attentional resources when decoding ambiguous emotional cues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13134
JournalDevelopmental science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • emotion labeling
  • face-sensitive ERPs
  • facial emotions
  • sensory reactivity
  • young children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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