UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Effects of acute social stress on emotion processing in children Chen, Frances S.; Schmitz, Julian; Domes, Gregor; Tuschen-Caffier, Brunna; Heinrichs, Markus, 1968-


The current study investigates the effect of a single episode of acute social stress on healthy children’s processing of facial expressions of emotion. Healthy nine- and ten-year-old boys (N = 39) underwent either a standardized psychosocial laboratory stressor (the Trier Social Stress Test for Children) or a control condition without exposure to socio-evaluative stress. Immediately thereafter, they classified pictures of faces displaying ambiguous facial expressions. Boys who had undergone the stress procedure were more likely to categorize ambiguously angry-fearful faces as fearful (and simultaneously less likely to categorize them as angry) relative to boys who had undergone the control condition. We suggest (i) that decreased sensitivity to anger cues following a stressful experience may represent an adaptive coping mechanism in healthy children, and/or (ii) that a heightened sensitivity to fearful cues may indicate the influence of children’s own emotional states on their interpretations of others’ emotional states.

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