Abstract

Forslund, T., Kenward, B., Granqvist, P., Gredebäck, G., & Brokki, C. (2017) Diminished ability to identify facial emotional expressions in children with disorganized attachment representations Developmental Science, e12465



The development of children´s ability to identify facial emotional expressions has long been suggested to be experience-dependent, with parental caregiving as an important influencing factor. This study attempts to further this knowledge by examining disorganization of the attachment system as a potential psychological mechanism behind aberrant caregiving experiences and deviations in the ability to identify facial emotional expressions. Typically developing children (N = 105, 49.5 % boys) aged 6 - 7 years (M = 6 years 8 months, SD = 1.8 months) completed an attachment representation task and an emotion identification task, and parents rated children´s negative emotionality. The results showed a generally diminished ability in disorganized children to identify facial emotional expressions, but no response biases. Disorganized attachment was also related to higher levels of negative emotionality, but discrimination of emotional expressions did not moderate or mediate this relation. Our novel findings relate disorganized attachment to deviations in emotion identification, and therefore suggest that disorganization of the attachment system may constitute a psychological mechanism linking aberrant caregiving experiences to deviations in children´s ability to identify facial emotional expressions. Our findings further suggest that deviations in emotion identification in disorganized children, in the absence of maltreatment, may manifest in a generally diminished ability to identify emotional expressions, rather than in specific response biases.