Emotion-recognition abilities and behavior problem dimensions in preschoolers: Evidence for a specific role for childhood hyperactivity.


Facial emotion-recognition difficulties have been reported in school-aged children with behavior problems; little is known, however, about either this association in preschool children or with regard to vocal emotion recognition. The current study explored the association between facial and vocal emotion recognition and behavior problems in a sample of 3 to 6-year-old children. A sample of 57 children enriched for risk of behavior problems (41 were recruited from the general population while 16 had been referred for behavior problems to local clinics) were each presented with a series of vocal and facial stimuli expressing different emotions (i.e., angry, happy, and sad) of low and high intensity. Parents rated children’s externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. Vocal and facial emotion recognition accuracy was negatively correlated with externalizing but not internalizing behavior problems independent of emotion type. The effects with the externalizing domain were independently associated with hyperactivity rather than conduct problems. The results highlight the importance of using vocal as well as facial stimuli when studying the relationship between emotion-recognition and behavior problems. Future studies should test the hypothesis that difficulties in responding to adult instructions and commands seen in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be due to deficits in the processing of vocal emotions.