2022-05-31Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.828066
Preschoolers’ Sensitivity to Negative and Positive Emotional Facial Expressions: An ERP Study
The study examined processing differences for facial expressions (happy, angry, or neutral) and their repetition with early (P1, N170) and late (P3) event-related potentials (ERPs) in young children (N = 33). EEG was recorded while children observed sequentially presented pairs of facial expressions, which were either the same (repeated trials) or differed in their emotion (novel trials). We also correlated ERP amplitude differences with parental and child measures of socio-emotional competence (emotion recognition, empathy). P1 amplitudes were increased for angry and happy as compared to neutral expressions. We also detected larger P3 amplitudes for angry expressions as compared to happy or neutral expressions. Repetition effects were evident at early and late processing stages marked by reduced P1 amplitudes for repeated vs. novel happy expressions, but enhanced P3 amplitudes for repeated vs. novel facial expressions. N170 amplitudes were neither modulated by facial expressions nor their repetition. None of the repetition effects were associated with measures of socio-emotional competence. Taken together, negative facial expressions led to increased neural activations in early and later processing stages, indicative of enhanced saliency to potential threating stimuli in young children. Processing of repeated facial expression seem to be differential for early and late neural stages: Reduced activation was detected at early neural processing stages particularly for happy faces, indicative of effective processing for an emotion, which is most familiar within this age range. Contrary to our hypothesis, enhanced activity for repeated vs. novel expression independent of a particular emotion were detected at later processing stages, which may be linked to the creation of new memory traces. Early and late repetition effects are discussed in light of developmental and perceptual differences as well as task-specific load.