At Durham University's Department of Psychology, a first-of-its-kind study looked at how kids pick up on the feelings of a situation and found that what they say, rather than what they see. They observed that while adults prioritized what they heard, young children exhibited perceptual superiority and prioritised what they could hear predominantly. The reports are published in the 'Experimental Child Psychology Journal'. The researchers said their results could help parents who are already handling homeschooling and experienced educators by strengthening their comprehension of how young children pick up on what's happening around them. The studies will also offer new opportunities for children with developmental disabilities such as autism to recognise emotional recognition. Lead author Dr Paddy Ross, Department of Psychology, Durham University, said: Our research showed that young kids over-rely on what they say to draw decisions about a situation's emotions. There is tremendous benefit in understanding what they can hear and pick up on, with so many kids now spending far more time at home. There may also be implications on how to make online learning more successful, as well as our knowledge of how feelings can be sensed and interpreted by children with disabilities such as autism, Ross added. The study was planned to assess whether the 'Colavita effect' previously described, which had demonstrated that humans appear to respond more to visual rather than auditory stimuli from around the age of eight years, was valid for more complex contexts such as emotional recognition in young children. The team performed two studies with participants aged 7, 8, 11 and 18 in three age groups. For the visual stimulus, and human voices for the auditory stimuli, which communicated joyful and anxious and depressed and angry feelings, the volunteers were shown images of people, with features blurred. Both on their own, and in matching and opposing variations, the stimuli were introduced, and participants were asked what the over-riding emotion was in each. The team found that adults based their emotional evaluation of what they could see when the visual and auditory inputs were mixed, while young kids predominantly gave priority to what they could hear. When confronted with visual and auditory stimuli in isolation, both age ranges scored over 90%. When the stimuli were mixed, a comparable score was reported, and participants were asked to neglect the visual stimuli and recognise the emotion from the voice. However, when younger and older children were challenged to disregard the voice and focus their judgement on the stimulation of the body, the team observed that when faced with a mixture where the feelings expressed in the visual and auditory stimuli did not align, they responded slightly poorer than adults. Children have scored slightly below the standard of chance, suggesting that after being instructed to disregard it, they were not simply guessing, but choosing the spoken feeling, rather than the visual. Dr Ross is also preparing to conduct more studies to examine why young children still focus on what they can hear when there are human facial expressions, even whether music conveying identical feelings is replaced by human voices.
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