Emotional face processing and emotion regulation in children: an ERP study

Dev Neuropsychol. 2009;34(1):85-102. doi: 10.1080/87565640802564887.


Emotion regulation is a critical component of healthy development, yet few studies examine neural correlates of emotion regulation in childhood. In the present study, we assessed whether children's neurophysiological responses to salient and socially significant emotional distracters-emotional faces-were related to broader emotion regulation capacities. Emotion regulation was measured as attention performance following emotional distracters and as maternal report of child emotional dysregulation. Electroencephalography was recorded while participants (15 children aged 5-9) performed an attention task. Scalp-recorded event related potentials (ERPs) were time-locked to emotional distracters (fearful, sad, and neutral faces) and reflected a range of rapid attentional and face processing operations (P1, N1, N170, and Nc). P1 latencies were faster whereas N1 amplitudes were reduced to fearful compared to sad faces. Larger P1 and Nc amplitudes to fearful and sad faces were correlated with more effective emotion regulation. Results are discussed in terms of mechanisms in emotion regulation and the use of ERPs to detect early risk for psychopathology and inform intervention efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Electrooculography / methods
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Face*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology