Bimodal perception of visual and auditory cues of emotion from early childhood to early adulthood
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Nonverbal cues of emotion, such as facial and vocal expressions, have been identified as important cues in determining the thoughts and feelings of others. The ability to interpret these cues in everyday situations is important to successful social interactions but research in this area has focused primarily on static, rather than dynamic cues. The purpose of this research was to investigate how perception of congruent and incongruent visual and auditory cues of emotion changes over the lifespan. Since research in processing has demonstrated an auditory preference in the processing of young children and a visual preference in adults, it was expected that under conditions of incongruency, children would select the auditory portion of the bimodal stimulus and adults would select the visual portion. Forty participants were recruited for this study, ten in each of the following age groups: Age 4-6; 8-10; 12-14; and Adults. Participants were exposed to a total of 184 neutral sentences portrayed by one male and female talker in happy, sad, angry, or fearful emotion expressions. Sixty of these sentences were congruent and consisted of matching bimodal cues. The remaining 124 sentences were incongruent and consisted of mismatched visual and auditory cues (e.g. Sad Face with Angry Voice). Statistical analysis of responses to the congruent stimuli showed increased accuracy in identification with increasing age. Incongruent stimuli did not lead children in the age 4-6 group to select the auditory component of the stimulus more often than the visual. However, statistically significant differences in the overall number of auditory responses by this group when compared to older groups occurred. Additionally, children in the age 4-6 group also provided more responses that reflected integration of the visual and auditory cues than other age groups. The integrations that were provided by children in the age 4-6 age group were primarily related to the acoustic cues of the auditory portion of the incongruent stimulus. Results suggested that the auditory cue influenced the youngest children's responses even if they did not always select the auditory portion of the incongruent stimulus. There was also a significant positive relationship between age and the number of visual responses provided to incongruent stimuli which suggested that as age increases, participants relied more heavily on the visual cues of emotion.