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Emotion first: children prioritize emotional faces in gaze-cued attentional orienting

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Abstract

Children shift their attention based on the gaze direction of another person but it is unclear whether they prioritize only the gaze of fearful faces over neutral ones or more generally, the gaze of emotional faces. School children performed a gaze-cueing task, in which central, non-predictive happy, angry, and neutral face-cues were briefly presented with averted gaze. Findings for 9–10-year-old children showed that the magnitude of gaze-cueing effects for happy and angry face-cues was similar and it was particularly larger with angry compared to neutral face-cues. In contrast, 6–7-year-old children showed gaze-cueing effects only with happy face-cues. The present findings clearly indicate that older children show emotion-enhanced gaze-cueing effects. In contrast, younger children did not show gaze-cueing effects with neutral and angry faces but they did with happy faces. The implications of age differences in the ability to prioritize emotional faces when shifting attention based on the observed gaze direction of a non-predictive face-cue are discussed in the context of the extant literature.

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Funding

This study was funded by Grant C26A14JFTP from the Ministry of University and Research (MIUR) to AP.

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Correspondence to Anna Pecchinenda.

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AP and MP declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All the procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Signed informed consent was obtained from all parents/legal guardians of the children included in the study and only for children who wanted to participate in the study.

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Pecchinenda, A., Petrucci, M. Emotion first: children prioritize emotional faces in gaze-cued attentional orienting. Psychological Research 85, 101–111 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01237-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01237-8

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