In studies completed by Williams et al. (2005), Wishart et al. (2007), and Wishart and Pitcairn (2000), as cited by Pochon and Declercq (2013), it was found that children with DS may experience difficulties in recognizing certain emotions via facial expression such as fear, surprise, and anger, compared to typically developing (TD) children. This lends the idea that children with DS have trouble in particular with recognizing more negatively connotated emotions, including sadness. (Porter et al., 2007; as cited by Pochon and Declercq, 2013) Because of aforementioned language barriers in children with DS (Roberts et al., 2007), a lack of emotional vocabulary could be at fault for the difficulties that accompany facial recognition. Studies suggest that a nonverbal test for emotional recognition in children with DS yields results no different than the same test for TD children (Pochon and Declercq 2013).
One such study, conducted by Pochon, Touchet, and Ibernon (2017) indicated that although children with DS scored higher in the control task (one with non-human and non-emotional stimuli) than in the emotional task, both DS and TD children scored the same (i.e. without significant difference) on the emotional task. Further, the ability to recognize individual emotions in the task was no different between TD children and DS children, suggesting that children with DS have an equal ability of recognizing negative emotions such as fear and anger as do TD children in nonverbal emotion-recognizing tasks. In a study conducted by Channell, Conners, and Barth (2014), it was found that children with DS performed better on tasks that used dynamic stimuli rather than on ones that used static stimuli. This is perhaps because the dynamic stimuli were more realistic, and thus were easier for DS children to recognize.
In a nonverbal longitudinal study conducted by Pochon and Declercq (2014), it was concluded that TD children and DS children matched for developmental age (DA) both increased in their ability to recognize emotions over the course of three years and three sessions. However, children with TD recognized on average one more facial expression than did children with DS over the three sessions (Pochon and Declercq, 2014). This suggests that children with DS are developmentally delayed compared to TD children over the course of three years, although this was expected. Because of this expected developmental delay, a cross-sectional component was added to the study to control for the variability in development by both groups. After the initial measurement at year one, a second group of TD children were recruited at the time of the second measurement at year two, and a third group at year three to compare to the DS children already participating in the study. These children were again matched for developmental age so that data could be compared without the confounding factor of developmental delay that is common in children with DS.
The results from the cross-sectional portion of the study showed that although TD children still scored higher in both the control and emotional tasks than did the DS group, they were lower than the scores of the TD groups in the longitudinal study. However, the scores obtained by the TD groups matched for DA with the DS group were still significantly higher, indicating that children with DS have significant emotion recognition deficits even when controlling for DA. The mean age of the DS children at the beginning of the study was 11 years, and the mean age of TD children at the beginning of the longitudinal portion of the study was 4 years (Pochon and Declercq, 2014).
An unrelated study conducted by Naerland, Bakke, Storvik, Warner, and Howlin (2016) sought to understand the severity of behavioral and emotional problems that children with DS may experience, and used age and sex as independent variables to uncover if differences were present between groups. The study involved 674 children with DS aged 4-18 years from both the United Kingdom and Norway. Of the study, the only significant trends found were that hyperactivity and problems with inattentiveness lessened with age, and that girls of all ages scored higher on emotional problems than did boys (Naerland et al., 2016).
An additional study conducted by Rea and colleagues (2016) showed that out of a population of TD students and students with DS, the students with DS were less emotionally expressive and were measured to have a weaker emotional attachment to their teachers. Because of this limited emotional attachment, it is possible that because of this, children with DS will be less confident in the classroom compared to their TD counterparts, and this may lead to decreased cognitive ability and learning in those environments (Bergin & Bergin, 2009; Sabol & Pianta, 2012; as cited by Rea et al., 2016).
It is important to note these differences in the way children with DS and TD children recognize emotions with and without emotional vocabulary so that educational systems can be implemented that tend to the needs of children with DS, who are prone to be less linguistically adept than their TD counterparts. If this barrier is closed, perhaps children with DS can be more confident and successful in the classroom as a result of a better emotional attachment to their teachers and peers.