The Effects of Trait-Anxiety on Young Children's Facial and Vocal Emotion Recognition and Attention

Sarah Marie Huttie, The College of Wooster


A series of three experiments explored the relationship between children's trait-anxiety and their performance on visual and vocal emotion recognition and attention. Children (N = 37) between the ages 4 and 6-years-old were given the Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale (RCMAS-2) in order to determine each child's level of trait-anxiety. For each experiment, participants were presented with a series of Ekman's faces that demonstrated one of six different facial emotional expressions (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust or fear). The first experiment examined children's trait-anxiety level and their ability to recognize facial emotion expressions presented at varying intensities. The second experiment investigated the length of time at which children experiencing low levels of trait-anxiety and children experiencing high levels of trait-anxiety spent attending to negative facial emotion expressions (e.g., disgust, sadness, fear and anger) and to positive facial emotion expressions (e.g., happiness and surprise). Experiment 3 examined whether all participants (regardless of anxiety-level) spent more time attending to vocal or visual emotional stimuli. This experiment also looked at how the factor of trait-anxiety influenced one's attention towards either vocal or visual emotional stimuli. Results showed that trait-anxiety plays a role in a child's attention towards positive versus negative facial emotion expressions and also their attention towards vocal and visual emotion stimuli. However, it was not evident that trait-anxiety played a significant role in a child's ability to recognize facial emotional expressions.