Inferring emotional reactions in social situations: Differences in children with language impairment

Janet A. Ford, Linda M. Milosky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Anticipating and responding to a partner's emotional reactions are key components in the comprehension of daily social discourse. Kindergarten children with language impairment (LI) and age-matched controls (CA) were asked to label facial expressions depicting 1 of 4 emotions (happy, surprised, sad, mad) and to identify those expressions when given a verbal label. Children then chose among these facial expressions when asked to infer emotional reactions from stories (3-sentence scenarios) presented in 1 of 3 modalities: verbal, visual, and combined. Although all children were able to identify and label the facial expressions, children with LI had difficulty integrating emotion knowledge with event context in order to infer a character's feelings. When these inferencing errors occurred, children in the LI group were more likely to provide emotions of a different valence (e.g., substituting happy for mad) than were children in the CA group. Inferencing ability was related to language comprehension performance on a standardized test. The findings suggest that inferencing errors made by children with LI occur during the early stages of social processing and may contribute to social difficulties often experienced by this group of children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-30
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2003


  • Children
  • Comprehension
  • Emotion
  • Inferences
  • Language impairment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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