Abstract

This investigation examined children’s capacity to decode verbal and nonverbal emotional stimuli. Children with externalizing behavioral symptoms were compared to two types of controls, including chronically ill and normally developing children. Children were requested to identify whether video scenes were happy, angry, sad, or neutral, across four different modalities including verbal, prosody, facial, and combined. Findings were that chronological age was a significant predictor of children’s ability to decode emotions with older children having better developed abilities than their younger peers. Verbal intelligence also was found to be a significant predictor of the ability to decode facial expressions and combined scenes. Although the data did not support the original hypotheses that children with externalizing behavior disorders would be less accurate than controls in the decoding of emotions, findings did support a developmental progression of decoding accuracy. Recommendations within the limitations of the study design are provided which support a developmental framework in children’s acquisition of the decoding of emotions.