Emotional Face Identification in a Transdiagnostic Sample of Pediatric Irritability

Eileen Lee, BA

McLean Hospital – Research Assistant

Scientific Abstract

Background: Irritability is a common symptom in many pediatric mental health diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Many speculate that these children struggle with impaired emotion regulation. In this study, we tested this by evaluating emotional face identification performance in a transdiagnostic sample of children and adolescents across the range of irritability. We hypothesized that children with greater irritability would exhibit deficits in emotional face identification.

Methods: Participants (N = 187) ages 8-16 (Meanage = 11.42 ± 2.49, 47.1% female) were enrolled in an ongoing IRB-approved study. We measured emotional face identification with the Diagnostic Analysis of Non-Verbal Accuracy (DANVA), a computerized task in which participants must identify the displayed emotions of 24 adult and 24 child faces as angry, fearful, happy, and sad. We measured irritability with the Affective Reactivity Index (ARI), a 6-item child/self and parent report. Participants were divided into low, medium, and high irritability groups based on their ARI total scores. Data were analyzed with SPSS (ver. 28).

Results: There was a significant positive correlation between child ARI rating and errors made on adult fearful faces (r (182) = 0.15, p = 0.047), but none for other face types or child faces. There was no significant correlation between parent ARI rating and identification errors made across the four emotions for both child and parent faces.

Conclusions: Our main finding is that greater irritability was associated with a greater deficit in identifying fearful adult faces. Children with greater irritability and a tendency to misinterpret adult fear may experience more frustrating home and school environments due to inappropriately responding to parents’ and teachers’ fear reactions. Future research is necessary to examine whether emotional face identification can predict irritability severity.

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research Areas


Eileen Lee, B.A., Emma Cho, B.S., Maria Naclerio, B.A., Courtney Kaplan, B.A., Jillian Russo, Psy.D., Julianne W. Tirpak, Ph.D., Josephine Au, Ph.D., Daniel Dickstein, M.D.

Principal Investigator

Daniel Dickstein, M.D.