Emotion Recognition in Preterm and Full-Term School-Age Children

Letizia Della Longa, Chiara Nosarti, Teresa Farroni*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Children born preterm (<37 weeks’ gestation) show a specific vulnerability for socio-emotional difficulties, which may lead to an increased likelihood of developing behavioral and psychiatric problems in adolescence and adulthood. The accurate decoding of emotional signals from faces represents a fundamental prerequisite for early social interactions, allowing children to derive information about others’ feelings and intentions. The present study aims to explore possible differences between preterm and full-term children in the ability to detect emotional expressions, as well as possible relationships between this ability and socio-emotional skills and problem behaviors during everyday activities. We assessed 55 school-age children (n = 34 preterm and n = 21 full-term) with a cognitive battery that ensured comparable cognitive abilities between the two groups. Moreover, children were asked to identify emotional expressions from pictures of peers’ faces (Emotion Recognition Task). Finally, children’s emotional, social and behavioral outcomes were assessed with parent-reported questionnaires. The results revealed that preterm children were less accurate than full-term children in detecting positive emotional expressions and they showed poorer social and behavioral outcomes. Notably, correlational analyses showed a relationship between the ability to recognize emotional expressions and socio-emotional functioning. The present study highlights that early difficulties in decoding emotional signals from faces may be critically linked to emotional and behavioral regulation problems, with important implications for the development of social skills and effective interpersonal interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6507
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • development
  • emotion recognition
  • facial expressions
  • preterm children
  • socio-emotional functioning


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