Recognition of facial expressions of emotion by children with emotional and behavioral disorders

Cynthia R. Ellis, Kathy L. Lindstrom, Theresa M. Villani, Nirbhay N. Singh, Al M. Best, Alan S.W. Winton, Philip K. Axtell, Donald P. Oswald, J. P. Leung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Interpreting and responding appropriately to facial expressions of emotion are important aspects of social skills. Some children, adolescents, and adults with various psychological and psychiatric disorders recognize facial expressions less proficiently than their peers in the general population. We wished to determine if such deficits existed in a group of 133 children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). The subjects were receiving in-patient psychiatric services for at least one of substance-related disorders, adjustment disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders or disruptive behavior disorders. After being read stories describing various emotional reactions, all subjects were tested for their ability to recognize the 6 basic facial expressions of emotion depicted in Ekman and Friesen's (1976) normed photographs. Overall, they performed well on this task at levels comparable to those occurring in the general population. Accuracy increased with age, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or clinical diagnosis. After adjusting for age effects, the subjects diagnosed with either adjustment disorders, mood disorders, or disruptive behavior disorders were significantly more accurate at identifying anger than those without those diagnoses. In addition, subjects with mood disorders identified sadness significantly more accurately than those without this diagnosis, although the effect was greatest with younger children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-470
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Children with emotional and behavioral disorders
  • Facial expressions of emotion
  • Mood disorders
  • Social skills

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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