In the eyes of the beholder: investigating the effect of visual probing on accuracy and gaze fixations when attending to facial expressions among primary and secondary callous-unemotional variants
SourceEuropean Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
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Individuals with callous-unemotional (CU) traits show deficits in facial emotion recognition. According to preliminary research, this impairment may be due to attentional neglect to peoples’ eyes when evaluating emotionally expressive faces. However, it is unknown whether this atypical processing pattern is unique to established variants of CU traits or modifiable with intervention. This study examined facial affect recognition and gaze patterns among individuals (N = 80M age = 19.95, SD = 1.01 years50% female) with primary vs secondary CU variants. These groups were identified based on repeated measurements of conduct problems, CU traits, and anxiety assessed in adolescence and adulthood. Accuracy and number of fixations on areas of interest (forehead, eyes, and mouth) while viewing six dynamic emotions were assessed. A visual probe was used to direct attention to various parts of the face. Individuals with primary and secondary CU traits were less accurate than controls in recognizing facial expressions across all emotions. Those identified in the low-anxious primary-CU group showed reduced overall fixations to fearful and painful facial expressions compared to those in the high-anxious secondary-CU group. This difference was not specific to a region of the face (i.e. eyes or mouth). Findings point to the importance of investigating both accuracy and eye gaze fixations, since individuals in the primary and secondary groups were only differentiated in the way they attended to specific facial expression. These findings have implications for differentiated interventions focused on improving facial emotion recognition with regard to attending and correctly identifying emotions.