September 18, 2009

Delinquents misunderstand social cues

Male juvenile delinquents often misinterpret facial expressions of disgust as anger and this may cause their aggressive behavior, researchers in Japan say.

Wataru Sato of Kyoto University and Naomi Matsuura of the Tokyo University of Social Welfare worked with a team of researchers to compare the ability of 24 male adolescent delinquents incarcerated in Japan with that of their peers without conduct problems to recognize emotional states.

The adolescents were shown 48 photographs of faces expressing six basic emotions and were asked to match each face with an emotion.

The study, published in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, finds delinquents were more likely than their peers to misinterpret facial expressions of disgust as anger.

The present study provides the first clear evidence that delinquents have a bias toward the misrecognition of others' disgusted expressions as anger, Sato said in a statement.

This bias toward misrecognizing other emotions as anger is particularly significant because anger appears to play an important role in delinquency.