, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 37-55

Children's facial and gestural decoding and encoding: Relations between skills and with popularity

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This study examined preschool children's decoding and encoding of facial emotions and gestures, interrelationships between these skills, and the relationship between these skills and children's popularity. Subjects were 34 preschoolers (eighteen 4-year-olds, sixteen 5-year-olds), with an equal number of boys and girls. Children's nonverbal skill was measured on four tasks: decoding emotions, decoding gestures, encoding facial emotions, and encoding gestures. Children's popularity was measured by teacher ratings. Analyses revealed the following major findings: (a) There were no age or gender effects on performance on any of the tasks. (b) Children performed better on decoding than encoding tasks, suggesting that nonverbal comprehension precedes production. Also, children appeared better at facial emotion skills than gesture skills. There were significant correlations between decoding and encoding gestures, and between encoding gestures and encoding emotions. (c) Multiple regression analyses indicated that encoding emotions and decoding gestures were marginally predictive of popularity. In addition, when children's scores on the four tasks were combined via z-score transformations, children's aggregate nonverbal skill correlated significantly with peer popularity.

Portions of this paper were presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Society, San Diego, CA, June, 1992. We thank the Child Study Center of Wellesley College, Janine Jarrell, Jennifer Mascola, and David Mills for their cooperation, and Carlene Nelson, Mark Runco, and Ed Stearns for statistical support. We also appreciate the valuable suggestions from Robin Akert, Annick Mansfield, the anonymous reviewers, and especially the guest editor.