Multiple psychiatric disorders are associated with difficulties in facial emotion recognition. However, generalized anxiety disorder may be associated with more accurate recognition of others' emotional expressions, particularly expressions of happiness and fear, which index safety and threat. Children aged 9-14 from a community sample (N = 601) completed a facial emotion labeling task. Children's symptoms of depressive and anxiety syndromes were assessed by self- and parent-report. Elevated symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder were associated with more accurate facial emotion recognition (β = 0.16, p = 0.007), specifically recognition of happiness (β = 0.17, p = 0.002) and fear (β = 0.15, p = 0.006). Elevated depressive symptoms were associated with less accurate facial emotion recognition (β = -0.12, p = 0.018), specifically happiness (β = -0.15, p = 0.002). Elevated symptoms of separation anxiety disorder were also associated with less accurate facial emotion recognition (β = -0.16, p = 0.003), specifically happiness (β = -0.15, p = 0.006) and fear (β = -0.15, p = 0.005), which highlights the importance of distinguishing between anxiety syndromes. Results held when adjusting for child age and sex. Evidence that symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are associated with more accurate recognition of happiness and fear is consistent with theories of heightened social vigilance and support a transdiagnostic role of facial emotion recognition that may inform the psychosocial development of youth with anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Emotion recognition; Facial emotion recognition.
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