2001 volume 30(9) pages 1115 – 1125

Cite as:
Kotsoni E, de Haan M, Johnson M H, 2001, "Categorical perception of facial expressions by 7-month-old infants" Perception 30(9) 1115 – 1125

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Categorical perception of facial expressions by 7-month-old infants

Eleni Kotsoni, Michelle de Haan, Mark H Johnson

Received 8 November 2000, in revised form 9 April 2001

Abstract. Recent research indicates that adults show categorical perception of facial expressions of emotion. It is not known whether this is a basic characteristic of perception that is present from the earliest weeks of life, or whether it is one that emerges more gradually with experience in perceiving and interpreting expressions. We report two experiments designed to investigate whether young infants, like adults, show categorical perception of facial expressions. 7-month-old infants were shown photographic quality continua of interpolated (morphed) facial expressions derived from two prototypes of fear and happiness. In the first experiment, we used a visual- preference technique to identify the infants' category boundary between happiness and fear. In the second experiment, we used a combined familiarisation - visual-preference technique to compare infants' discrimination of pairs of expressions that were equally physically different but that did or did not cross the emotion-category boundary. The results suggest that 7-month-old infants (i) show evidence of categorical perception of facial expressions of emotion, and (ii) show persistent interest in looking at fearful expressions.

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