Emerging Sensitivity to Socially Complex Expressions: A Unique Role for Adolescence?

Natalie V. Garcia, K. Suzanne Scherf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Complex facial expressions provide signals about emotions that are related to nuanced social behavior (e.g., shame, desire) and inner thoughts (e.g., pensive). In this article, we review the empirical evidence evaluating whether the ability to recognize these complex expressions changes during adolescence, given the increasing evidence of heightened sensitivity to social signals during this time. We propose considerations for interpreting findings from this work and shaping research. Finally, we offer a new hypothesis about the influences of age and pubertal maturation on the development of processing complex facial expressions during adolescence, and propose that puberty influences the emergence of sensitivity to particular kinds of complex expressions, namely social sexual expressions. This hypothesis is embedded in a broader theory about how age-appropriate social developmental tasks, like forming loyal peer friendships and exploring romantic and sexual relationships in adolescence, influence face-processing behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-90
Number of pages7
JournalChild Development Perspectives
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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