Intensity, not Emotion: The Role of Poverty in Emotion Labeling ability in Middle Childhood

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Emotion labeling, Emotion labeling ability, Middle childhood, Poverty, Chronic poverty exposure, Intensity


Poverty exposure has been linked to difficulties in emotion expression recognition, which further increases risks for negative emotional outcomes among children. The current study aimed to investigate whether the difficulties in emotion expression recognition among children experiencing poverty may be emotion specific or expression intensity specific. Thus, the current study investigated the relationship between poverty exposure and emotion labeling ability in an ethnically and economically diverse sample of children (N = 46) in middle childhood. A novel experimental design measured emotion labeling ability at different valences of emotion (fearful, angry, and happy) and at varying intensities (0–100%) of emotion presentation. Using a hierarchical logistic regression, we found a significant interaction between the percentage of time since birth a child has lived in poverty and the intensity of the emotional stimulus in affecting correct emotion identification. Children who lived longer in poverty gained less accuracy for equivalent increases in intensity compared with children who had not lived in poverty. On average, children who chronically lived in poverty required emotional intensity set at 60% in order to reach levels of accuracy observed at 30% intensity among children who were never exposed to poverty. We found no significant emotion-specific effect. These findings demonstrate that children who experience chronic poverty require more intense expressions to recognize emotions across valences. This further elaborates the existing understanding of a relationship between poverty exposure and emotion recognition, informing future studies examining expression recognition as a mechanism involved in developing psychopathology.

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