Shared environment effects on children’s emotion recognition

Rotem Schapira*, Hillary Anger Elfenbein, Meirav Amichay-Setter, Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Ariel Knafo-Noam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Empathy is relevant to many psychiatric conditions. Empathy involves the natural ability to perceive and be sensitive to the emotional states of others. Thus, emotion recognition (ER) abilities are key to understanding empathy. Despite the importance of ER to normal and abnormal social interactions, little is known about how it develops throughout childhood. We examined genetic and environmental influences on children’s ER via facial and vocal cues in 344 7-year-old twin children [59 monozygotic (MZ) and 113 same-sex dizygotic (DZ) pairs], who were part of the Longitudinal Israeli Study of Twins. ER was assessed with the child version of the Diagnostic Assessment of Nonverbal Accuracy. For both facial and vocal cues of emotion, twin correlations were not higher for MZ twins than for DZ twins, suggesting no heritability for ER in this population. In contrast, correlations were positive for both types of twins, indicating a shared environmental effect. This was supported by a bivariate genetic analysis. This pattern was robust to controlling for twins being of the same sex and age. Effects remained after controlling for background variables such as family income and number of additional siblings. The analysis found a shared environmental correlation between facial and vocal ER (rc = .63), indicating that the shared environmental factors contributed to the overlap between vocal and facial ER. The study highlights the importance of the shared environment to children’s ER.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number215
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 Schapira, Anger Elfenbein, Amichay-Setter, Zahn-Waxler and Knafo-Noam. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Childhood
  • Emotion recognition
  • Empathy
  • Individual differences
  • Shared environment effect


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