Early experience is associated with the development of categorical representations for facial expressions of emotion
A fundamental issue in human development concerns how the young infant's ability to recognize emotional signals is acquired through both biological programming and learning factors. This issue is extremely difficult to investigate because of the variety of sensory experiences to which humans are exposed immediately after birth. We examined the effects of emotional experience on emotion recognition by studying abused children, whose experiences violated cultural standards of care. We found that the aberrant social experience of abuse was associated with a change in children's perceptual preferences and also altered the discriminative abilities that influence how children categorize angry facial expressions. This study suggests that affective experiences can influence perceptual representations of basic emotions.