White SR, Williams J, Jones BC, DeBruine LM & Mon-Williams M (2005). Patterns of developmental advancement in 'reading' dynamic facial expression . Journal of Vision, 5(8): 48. doi: 10.1167/5.8.48

The ability to predict the intentions of others is a core feature of human social communication. Within the visual domain, information regarding intention is conveyed largely through gesture, facial expression and eye-gaze. Whilst there is evidence that even very young children follow eye gaze and discriminate between different facial expressions, much less effort has been directed to exploring whether children are able to integrate two sources of social-visual information to predict intention. We studied the development of this ability in four groups of children (n=10 for each group) aged between 5 and 12 years using a facial pre-cue paradigm. The children were presented with a realistic computer generated face (composite of 100 real faces) on a computer screen for 1000ms. After a random delay of 500-3000ms after the face disappeared, a central arrow would appear pointing left or right. The children were required to press a right key when it pointed right and a left key when it pointed left. A ten degree eye-movement within the face provided consistently valid precue information. In a second block of trials, the eye shift occurred concurrently with a smile or a frown. The smile meant that the cue was valid but a frown indicated an invalid cue. This design feature was explained carefully to the children. The data reveal the developmental progression of responses to social pre-cues. We will discuss the findings with regard to the general maturational processes that occur within this age group.

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