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Social and emotional

Social and Emotional

Social and emotional assessments are carried out using facial emotional recognition and theory of mind methods.

Facial emotion recognition

Emotions are associated with specific emotional expressions. Facial emotion recognition refers to the ability to accurately identify these facial expressions, which develops and improves throughout childhood.

The importance of facial emotion recognition

Difficulties in identifying facial expressions can have negative consequences on understanding how others are feeling, which can interfere with the ability to engage in appropriate social behaviour and to maintain friendships.

Measuring the ability to recognise facial emotion

We measure each child’s ability to recognise facial emotion through the Facial Emotion Recognition task. The child is presented with images of male and female faces, either displaying expressions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger or no emotion. The child is asked to identify how that person is feeling.

The intensity of the facial expression also varies from low intensity to high intensity. It is important to verify where the child is looking when observing faces, as the most important emotional information is conveyed from the eye and mouth region. We therefore use eye-tracking techniques to examine where the child is looking when they are identifying facial expressions.

Theory of mind

Theory of Mind role play
Theory of Mind role play

Theory of mind

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and to others. This function enables an individual to understand or predict other people’s behaviour in social situations.

The importance of theory of mind

As children develop, so does their theory of mind understanding; they increasingly see human beings as individuals with beliefs, desires, intentions and feelings that are separate to their own. This ability helps children to develop the social skills that are needed for social pretend play, reciprocal friendships and appropriate cooperation.

Measuring theory of mind

Theory of Mind is measured through a series of stories using soft toys or toy figures as the main characters. Each story creates a situation in which the child is aware of something that a main character in the story is not. The child is then asked questions about what the main character thinks.

To pass the task, the child must be able to understand that another's mental representation of the situation is different from their own, and use that information to predict the character’s behaviour. For example, in the ‘Sally-Anne Location Task’, children are introduced to toy figures called Max and Sally.

Max has a football and he puts it in a basket before going out for a walk. While Max is away, Sally moves the football from the basket to the cupboard. When Max returns, the child is asked, ‘Where will Max look for his football?’. The correct answer is that Max will look in the basket as he is unaware that his football has been moved, unlike the child who is aware where the ball really is.