Altered representation of facial expressions after early visual deprivation
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We investigated the effects of early visual deprivation on the underlying representation of the six basic emotions. Using multi-dimensional scaling (MDS), we compared the similarity judgments of adults who had missed early visual input because of bilateral congenital cataracts to control adults with normal vision. Participants made similarity judgments of the six basic emotional expressions, plus neutral, at three different intensities. Consistent with previous studies, the similarity judgments of typical adults could be modeled with four underlying dimensions, which can be interpreted as representing pleasure, arousal, potency and intensity of expressions. As a group, cataract-reversal patients showed a systematic structure with dimensions representing pleasure, potency, and intensity. However, an arousal dimension was not obvious in the patient group's judgments. Hierarchical clustering analysis revealed a pattern in patients seen in typical 7-year-olds but not typical 14-year-olds or adults. There was also more variability among the patients than among the controls, as evidenced by higher stress values for the MDS fit to the patients' data and more dispersed weightings on the four dimensions. The findings suggest an important role for early visual experience in shaping the later development of the representations of emotions. Since the normal underlying structure for emotion emerges postnatally and continues to be refined until late childhood, the altered representation of emotion in adult patients suggests a sleeper effect.