Trends in the development of emotional intensity and facial displays
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Facial Feedback Theory predicts that emotional experience is heightened by feedback from the face. To test this idea, and to examine the developmental course of empathy in early childhood, 58 children (mean age 4 years, 0 month; 7 years, 6 months; 10 years, 5 months) were tested in two experimental settings: a story condition, where the children were told two happy stories and a role-playing condition, where the subjects enacted scenes from two happy stories. After the treatments, the subjects were asked to report both the character's and their own emotions. Behavioral measures of emotion were also assessed using the Facial Action Coding System. It was reasoned that (a) the reported feelings would increase with age, and (b) the subjects in the Role Playing Condition would report stronger feelings than the subjects in the Story Condition. As expected, reported feelings increased with developmental age. However, this increase was not evident in the facial expressions of the subjects. Furthermore, during the treatment conditions, the subjects in the Role Playing Condition displayed more intense facial expressions than the subjects in the Story Condition, but this increase was not observed in the self-report measure. These findings suggest that children develop the ability to display the facial expressions before they can express these feelings in cognitive terms.