Investigating Emotion-Recognition Deficits in Children with Callous-Unemotional Traits




Assistant Professor Of Psychology

Project Summary

This summer, I built an electronic emotion recognition task, called “DART” (Dynamic Affect Recognition Task). One of the goals of DART is to test how well participants recognize emotions. Stimuli in previous emotion-recognition studies have been limited to static images of faces, posing an issue in regards to naturalness, as in the real world people don’t hold the same expression indefinitely. In DART, our goal was to create more natural stimuli. We recruited ameteur actors from the Penn campus and videoed them showing anger, sadness, fear, happiness, and a neutral expression. Participants in the study were recruited through MTurk and were assigned to one of three conditions:  static face images, dynamic face videos, or dynamic body videos. Participants were asked to identify the emotion and also rank its intensity and naturalness. Participants also filled out various questionnaires assessing psychopathic and callous-unemotional traits.  We found that higher psychopathic and callous-unemotional traits predict lower success in recognizing traditionally negative emotions, such as fear, sadness, and anger. 
In addition to giving us valuable information about the correlations between psychopathy, callous-unemotional traits, and the ability to recognize negative emotions, we also used DART to inform which stimuli we will be using in a second laboratory study (the Family and Child Emotion Socialization Study, or FACES), where we will bring in children and their families to do various tasks, including this emotion recognition one. We discarded stimuli that were consistently rated low on naturalness, as well as stimuli that were consistently identified incorrectly (i.e., >50% participants in the MTurk study chose the option, “I don’t know”). 
This experience has introduced me into the world of research and shown me  how it is carried out, and what it takes to be a researcher. Before PURM, the word “research” seemed ambiguous, almost undefinable, to me. I didn’t know what being in a lab actually meant, on a day-to-day basis. I learned that there is so much that researchers do, no one day looks exactly like another. Researchers are responsible for every last bit of their project, from the IRB, to the recruitment of participants, to the design of the actual task, which needs to follow the literature of the field you are researching. Not only did I learn valuable technical skills, such as working with Qualtrics, SR Eyelink, and SPSS, but I also learned the persistence and commitment research requires. For example, I worked for about a week on creating a survey with hundreds of stimuli. However, after realizing that some of the photos and videos were different in size, we went over every stimulus and replaced it with a standardized one. While this may have seemed tedious and inconsequential, it could have had big implications for the results and validity of our study.