• Recognition of subtle and universal facial expressions in a community-based sample of adults classified with intellectual disability

      Owen, S.; Maratos, Frances A.; University of Derby; Department of Psychology; University of Derby; Derby UK; Department of Psychology; University of Derby; Derby UK (2016-02-09)
      Background Across the USA and UK schemes now exist to aid the successful integration of adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities into general society. One factor that may prove important to the success of such schemes is social competence. Here, understanding the facial expressions of others is critical, as emotion recognition is a prerequisite to empathetic responding and an essential factor in social functioning. Yet research in this area is lacking, especially in community-based samples. Method We investigated the performance of 13 adults with mild to moderate intellectual disability (ID), relative to 13 age-matched controls, on three tasks of emotion recognition (emotion categorisation; recognition of valence; recognition of arousal), using a number of ‘basic’ (angry, happy) and more ‘subtle’ (compassionate, critical) emotional expressions, as well as the posers face in a default relaxed (i.e. ‘neutral’) state. Importantly, the sample was drawn from a community-based initiative, and was therefore representative of populations’ government schemes target. Results Across emotion recognition tasks the ID adults, as compared to controls, were significantly impaired when labelling the emotions displayed by the poser as well as recognising the associated ‘feelings’ conveyed by these faces. This was especially true for the neutral, compassionate and angry facial expressions. For example, ID adults demonstrated deficits in categorising neutral and subtle emotional expressions, as well as assessing the valence of such facial expressions. In addition, ID adults also struggled to assess arousal levels; especially those associated with compassionate and angry faces. Conclusion Given both basic and subtle emotions are conveyed in a range of daily situations, errors in interpreting such facial expressions and, relatedly, understanding what potential behaviours such expressions signify could contributing to the social difficulties ID adults face. This is important since current initiatives such as ‘personalisation’ do not appear to have schemes supporting training in this area and understanding the facial expressions of others is, after all, one of our most important non-verbal social communication tools.