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Others have suggested that early experience may interact with neurobiological structures to determine the development of emotion recognition A study presented Chinese and Australian children aged 4, 6, and 8 years with Chinese and Caucasian American facial expressions of basic emotions and asked children to choose the face that best matched a situation. Results showed that 4-year-old Chinese children were better than Australian children at choosing the facial expression that best fit the situation in Chinese faces In a similar study, Gosselin and Larocque 52 presented Caucasian and Asian Japanese faces of basic emotions to 5—year-old French Canadian children and read to the children short stories describing one of the basic emotions.

Children were asked to choose the face that best fit the emotion in the story. Results showed that children displayed equal levels of accuracy for Asian and Caucasian faces but performance was influenced by the emotion type. Specifically, children recognised fear and surprise better from Asian faces, whereas disgust was better recognised from Caucasian faces Findings suggest some influence of facial characteristics from different ethnicities on emotion recognition. Overall, findings from existing studies using facial stimuli suggest that cross-cultural differences in emotion recognition may be present in early childhood.

Learning to recognise emotions develops as children acquire greater experience with language. More accurate recognition of emotion in native language with development suggests greater influence of culture-specific factors and experience on emotion recognition. Recent research has highlighted links between emotional information processing and behaviour problems in children.

The development of cross-cultural recognition of vocal emotion during childhood and adolescence

Individual differences in hyperactivity and conduct problems have been negatively associated with recognition of angry, happy, and sad vocal expressions since the preschool years This is consistent with studies using facial emotion stimuli Emotional problems have also been associated with poor emotion recognition. Similarly, participants who were induced with a feeling of stress before a vocal emotion recognition task performed worse than non-stressed participants Emotion recognition and emotion regulation jointly predicted intercultural adjustment in university students; specifically, recognition of anger and emotion regulation predicted positive adjustment while recognition of contempt, fear and sadness predicted negative adjustment Despite evidence that behavioural and emotional problems negatively affect interpersonal sensitivity to emotion, previous research has not examined links between individual differences in behavioural and emotional problems and cross-cultural vocal emotion recognition in children.

Since children with behavioural and emotional problems show lower sensitivity to social cues of emotion within their own cultures, it is possible that cultural influences on emotion recognition would be relatively small in this group of children. Studying cross-cultural vocal emotion recognition during development can contribute to a better understanding of the extent to which these abilities are shaped by learning and experience or are universal and biologically determined abilities.

The second aim of this study was to examine the developmental trajectory of cross-cultural differences in vocal emotion recognition. We aimed to answer the question of whether vocal emotion recognition improves throughout development as children acquire greater exposure to their native language. We predicted that improvement in vocal emotion recognition with development would be larger in the native language. Finally, based on research showing associations between vocal emotion recognition and individual differences in personality and behaviour traits in adults 58 and children 15 , we explored the impact of behavioural and emotional problems as well as emotion regulation on vocal emotion recognition.

We predicted that vocal emotion recognition would be positively associated with emotion regulation and negatively associated with behavioural and emotional problems. Raw data were transformed into measures of accuracy according to the two high threshold model This model has been used in previous studies examining vocal emotion recognition accuracy in children 15 , Our measure of discrimination accuracy took into account not only the stimuli identified correctly hits but also all possible misidentifications e. This is similar with the Hu scores 60 used in the studies by Pell and colleagues 7 , 9 to correct for differences in item frequency among categories and individual participant response biases.

As in our study, the Hu scores also take into account not only the stimuli identified correctly hits but also possible misidentifications e. Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests confirmed that data met assumptions for parametric analysis. Independent-samples t-tests showed statistically significant differences between boys and girls in discrimination accuracy. Scores of discrimination accuracy were entered into a mixed-design ANOVA with Emotion angry, happy, sad and fear and Language English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic as within-subject factors and Age group children, adolescents, adults as the between-subject factor.

Main effects and interaction terms were broken down using simple contrasts. Because neutral stimuli are not emotional and served as filler items in the experiment, and for consistency with previous work in adults 7 , neutral scores were not entered in the main analysis to focus on effects of basic emotions Nevertheless, to examine effects of language on the recognition of neutral stimuli, a one-way ANOVA was performed on the accuracy scores for neutral voices. Top panel: Line graph with error bars showing the mean accuracy Pr scores for each language per age group.

To explore this we ran additional analyses in which accuracy scores of the language x emotion conditions were entered in One-Way ANOVA examining the effect of emotion and language on accuracy for the age groups separately. To simplify the results and because our aim was to examine developmental effects on recognition accuracy for native compared to non-native language, we conducted a further ANOVA with accuracy for native and non-native language per emotion as the dependent measure and age as a between subjects factor.

We did this by combining scores of all non-native languages per emotion and comparing them with recognition scores of the native language.

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Overall, the largest improvement was observed between adolescence and adulthood, as shown in Fig. Results showed that developmental trajectories of emotion recognition differed as a function of language type. Because we were not interested in emotion-specific patterns but rather the overall relationship between recognition from native and non-native language and behaviour, we collapsed across emotions for these analyses. This is the first study to examine the development of vocal emotional recognition in foreign languages in children and adolescents. Children recognised vocal emotions at above chance levels in all three tested foreign languages.

Handbook of Cultural Developmental Science

In addition, English children were more accurate when recognising vocal emotions in their native language. Children were more accurate for angry and sad voices compared to happiness and fear. Emotion-related effects on accuracy were different for the different languages tested. Accuracy improved with age especially for happiness, sadness, and fear.

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Age-related improvement was more prominent for the native language. Accuracy improved with age for all emotions in the native language, but not in the non-native language where improvement was not observed for certain emotions e. First, the overall recognition rates per language in our study are consistent with previous studies in adults.

The mean recognition rates for the stimuli, which were selected for the current study based on previous studies, was as follows: English Similarly, in our study, the highest mean recognition was for English Consistent with previous studies, our study showed that English was recognised with the highest accuracy rate and Arabic with the lowest rate. This is consistent with previous literature, which has shown that vocal emotions are recognized at rates approximately four times chance 1 , In summary, accuracy rates in our study are stable and consistent with previous research, suggesting the existence of similar inference rules from vocal expressions across languages.

Second, emotion effects on accuracy in our study are similar to those reported in adults 9. We found higher accuracy for angry and sad voices compared to happiness and fear and higher accuracy for fear and sad compared to happiness. This is consistent with Pell and colleagues 7 who found that anger, sadness and fear tended to result in higher recognition rates across languages compared to expressions of happiness. Liu and Pell 63 also found that fear had the highest recognition, followed by anger, sadness, and happiness.

Our study and previous work converge towards a general advantage for recognising negative emotions. This is compatible with evolutionary theories arguing that vocal cues are associated with threat and need to be highly salient to ensure human survival 65 , 66 , In both our study and previous studies 7 , 10 , 64 accuracy was especially low when participants were asked to recognise happy expressions.

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Our results are consistent with previous research showing that although happiness is recognisable more easily from facial expression 68 , it is more difficult to recognise in vocal expressions 3 , In contrast, negative emotions i. Third, the error confusion patterns between emotions in our study are consistent with those of previous adult studies. In our study, participants showed a tendency to confuse sadness and fear and a tendency to categorize neutral expressions as sad. Happiness was also mislabelled as neutral in many cases. This is consistent with results from previous studies in adults.

Studies by Pell and colleagues 7 , 9 showed that participants tended to confuse sadness or anger with neutral expressions and to categorize fear as sadness, although these patterns were not uniform across languages. The most frequent systematic error observed in adult studies was that neutral expressions were mislabelled as conveying sadness. In addition, fear was confused with sadness in English, Hindi and Arabic. Happiness was misjudged as neutral in English and Arabic 7.

Similarly, in the study by Scherer and colleagues 10 , fear was frequently confused with sadness and sadness with neutral.

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These recognition rates, including the low recognition accuracy for happiness, are similar to previous research using the same stimulus material 64 and to recognition rates obtained with a larger set of different actors and emotion portrayals 1. In summary, a systematic analysis of recognition rates per language and emotion as well as confusion matrices from our study shows striking similarities with data from previous adult studies, suggesting that recognition rates in our study are stable and likely to generalise to new samples.

Specifically, vocal expressions of anger compared to fear were significantly more accurately recognised in English than in Arabic. Expressions of fear, which were recognized relatively poorly when compared to other emotions in other languages, were significantly more accurately recognised in Arabic. In addition, fear compared to happiness was significantly more accurately recognised in Chinese than English.


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  • Vocal expressions of happiness compared to fear were significantly more accurately recognised in Spanish than in Chinese. A clear processing advantage for happiness when produced in Spanish is consistent with findings from previous studies in Spanish speaking individuals 9. In addition, Pell and colleagues 9 found that sadness was recognised with the least accuracy in Spanish which was significantly lower than Arabic and English. Fear showed no significant difference in recognition accuracy across languages 7. Scherer and colleagues 10 showed that correlations between accuracy rates for different emotions among languages indicated uniformly high correlations, suggesting that recognition of different emotions is highly comparable across cultures.

    In the same study, the error patterns were similar across cultures German, French, English, Italian, Spanish and Indonesian , suggesting similar inference rules from vocal expressions across cultures. In summary, both our study and previous work 9 , 10 , 11 seem to converge to cross-language tendencies to recognise vocal emotion, with happiness being the emotion showing a clear processing advantage from Spanish across studies. However, future studies should use encoders from a number of languages, rather than only one language and construct an encoder-decoder emotion matrix to systematically examine the intercultural encoding and decoding of vocal emotion.

    Our finding that children recognised vocal emotions at above chance levels in all tested foreign languages extends previous work in adults 7. These findings support the claim that vocal emotions contain pan-cultural perceptual properties which allow accurate recognition of basic emotions in a foreign language. To our knowledge, our study is the first to show that the ability to recognise emotions from the tone of voice is a universal ability which is already in place in middle childhood.

    Importantly, emotion recognition was specific to vocal rather than linguistic aspects given that we used pseudo-sentences which did not contain meaningful linguistic content. The finding that cross-cultural vocal emotion recognition is an early developing mechanism is compatible with theories on the universality of emotional expressions within humans and continuity of emotion across species 70 , 71 , It also supports nativist-oriented theories of development arguing in favor of the innate nature of differentiated emotional expressions 73 , Supporting evidence derives from studies showing that deaf and blind children display expressions of anger and happiness in suitable situations even though they could not have learned these emotions through experience Recent fMRI research has found that the human brain shows remarkable functional specialisation for processing emotional information from human voices already at 3 months of age In summary, the above view partly challenges the role of experience and learning in vocal emotion recognition.

    Although children recognised vocal emotions at above chance levels in all foreign languages, they were more accurate to recognise emotions in their native language English. This finding suggests that vocal emotion recognition is influenced to some extent by cultural and social factors. From a developmental perspective, this finding is consistent with models highlighting the motivational and communicative nature of emotional expressions 78 , 79 , 80 , These models have assumed that the development of emotion recognition is predominantly experience-reliant.

    Our study extends previous work by showing that although there is a universal ability to recognise vocal emotions, the way emotions are recognised is also influenced by cultural aspects. Therefore, social and biological determinants may interact to form an understanding of emotions throughout development, and theories considering one determinant biological versus social in isolation cannot account for the whole picture in the development of vocal emotion recognition. Our findings are compatible with an integrated model with biological maturation playing an important early role and socialization maintaining biologically based predispositions with regard to vocal emotion recognition.

    It is important to note that consistent with previous research we found a slight female advantage in vocal emotion recognition In the adult literature, female judges have been found to present slightly better vocal emotion recognition rates than male judges A female advantage in emotion recognition should be considered in the context of sex-different evolutionary selection pressures related to survival and reproduction For example, a female advantage in the appraisal of vocal emotion can be attributed to evolutionary pressure to detect subtle changes in infant signals A female advantage can be explained by sex-different maturational rates.

    Females seem to mature faster than males and early maturation is associated with better verbal abilities Language-related sex differences may be affected by biological factors and hormonal effects It has also been argued that the development of sex differences in emotion recognition may depend on the interaction of maturational and experiential factors Girls may present biological predispositions to an emotion recognition advantage which is amplified in situations of eliciting experiences. Research has shown that emotion scripts and acquisition of emotion concepts can merge with gender socialization.

    For example, Fivush found that mothers of 3-year-olds tended to talk in a more elaborated fashion about sadness with their daughters and more about anger with their sons Similarly, by using more varied emotional language in conversations with daughters, parents socialised girls to be more attuned to the emotions of others Although accuracy was higher for the native language English than a foreign language, accuracy for recognising emotions in Chinese was also higher compared to Spanish or Arabic. Based on previous research showing that linguistic similarity has a positive impact on the ability to recognise emotions in a foreign language 10 we would expect that English native speakers would be more accurate when recognising emotions expressed in another European language such as Spanish rather than Chinese.

    Our findings seem to be more consistent with findings by other researchers 7 , 11 showing that linguistic similarity does not influence vocal emotion recognition.

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    Pell and colleagues 7 have systematically analysed the acoustic parameters of pseudo-sentences from different languages and have found that speakers of English, German and Arabic exploit acoustic parameters of fundamental frequency, duration and intensity in relatively equal measure to differentiate a common set of basic emotions.

    Signalling functions may be dictated by modal tendencies independent of language structure 7. Results from the studies by Pell and colleagues are consistent with previous work 11 which did not find that linguistic similarity influenced vocal emotion recognition.

    In contrast, Scherer and colleagues 10 asked judges from nine countries in Europe, the United States, and Asia to recognise language-free vocal emotion portrayals by German actors and found that accuracy decreased with increasing language dissimilarity from German. Specifically, the rank order of countries with respect to overall recognition accuracy mirrored the decreasing similarity of languages.

    The lowest recognition rate was reported for the only country studied that did not belong to the Indo-European language family: Indonesia Given that non-linguistic stimuli were employed, it is possible that effects may be due either to segmental information e.