Adolescents' ability to read different emotional faces relates to their history of maltreatment and type of psychopathology

Tatyana Leist*, Mark R. Dadds

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


Emotional processing styles appear to characterize various forms of psychopathology and environmental adversity in children. For example, autistic, anxious, high- and low-emotion conduct problem children, and children who have been maltreated, all appear to show specific deficits and strengths in recognizing the facial expressions of emotions. Until now, the relationships between emotion recognition, antisocial behaviour, emotional problems, callous-unemotional (CU) traits and early maltreatment have never been assessed simultaneously in one study, and the specific associations of emotion recognition to maltreatment and child characteristics are therefore unknown. We examined facial-emotion processing in a sample of 23 adolescents selected for high-risk status on the variables of interest. As expected, maltreatment and child characteristics showed unique associations. CU traits were uniquely related to impairments in fear recognition. Antisocial behaviour was uniquely associated with better fear recognition, but impaired anger recognition. Emotional problems were associated with better recognition of anger and sadness, but lower recognition of neutral faces. Maltreatment was predictive of superior recognition of fear and sadness. The findings are considered in terms of social information-processing theories of psychopathology. Implications for clinical interventions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-250
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Emotion recognition
  • Maltreatment


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