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Kids face up to disgust surprisingly late

Understanding of this yucky emotion may not emerge until age 5

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6:29pm, May 28, 2010

BOSTON — Young children have a gift for doing things that adults find disgusting. But kids themselves take a surprisingly long time, until about age 5, to grasp the meaning of adults’ facial expressions of disgust, according to evidence presented May 28 at the Association for Psychological Science annual meeting.

This conclusion flies in the face of a popular idea that evolution has produced an innate facial expression for this emotion that even infants should comprehend, said Boston College psychologist James Russell. Theoretically, an ingrained recognition of adults’ disgusted expressions would keep youngsters from eating poisonous and potentially fatal items or putting them in their mouths.

“From that traditional view, it’s surprising that kids don’t understand facial expressions of disgust until age 5,” Russell says. “But we find that, until then, they see a ‘disgust’ face as being angry.”

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