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Children cannot ignore what they hear: Incongruent emotional information leads to an auditory dominance in children

Ross, P and Atkins, B and Allison, L and Simpson, H and Duffell, C and Williams, M and Ermolina, O (2021) 'Children cannot ignore what they hear: Incongruent emotional information leads to an auditory dominance in children.', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 204 . p. 105068.


Effective emotion recognition is imperative to successfully navigating social situations. Research suggests differing developmental trajectories for the recognition of bodily and vocal emotion, but emotions are usually studied in isolation and rarely considered as multimodal stimuli in the literature. When presented with basic multimodal sensory stimuli, the Colavita effect suggests that adults have a visual dominance (they state how many stimuli they have seen rather than heard), whereas more recent research finds that an auditory sensory dominance may be present in children under 8 years of age. However, it is not currently known whether this phenomenon holds for more complex multimodal social stimuli. Here we presented children and adults with multimodal social stimuli consisting of emotional bodies and voices, asking them to recognise the emotion in one modality while ignoring the other. We found that adults can perform this task with no detrimental effects to performance, regardless of whether the ignored emotion was congruent or not. However, children find it extremely challenging to recognise bodily emotion while trying to ignore incongruent vocal emotional information. In several instances they perform below chance level, indicating that the auditory modality actively informs their choice of bodily emotion. This is therefore the first evidence, to our knowledge, of an auditory dominance in children when presented with socially meaningful stimuli.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
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Publisher statement:© 2021 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:07 December 2020
Date deposited:14 January 2021
Date of first online publication:09 January 2021
Date first made open access:09 January 2022

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