Do peer relationships mediate the association between children's facial emotion recognition ability and their academic attainment? Findings from the ALSPAC study

Rhianna White, Ginny Russell, Pamela Qualter, Matthew Owens, Lamprini Psychogiou

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We examined whether children's facial emotion recognition ability predicted their academic attainment over time, and whether peer relationships mediated that association. A secondary aim was to test whether the putative causal pathways would be significantly different for boys and girls. The model was tested using data from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a prospective longitudinal cohort population. Facial emotion recognition ability was assessed using the Diagnostic Assessment of Non-Verbal Accuracy (DANVA) at age 8.5 years while academic attainment was measured using data on UK Key Stage 4 (General Certificate of Secondary Education) at 16 years (outcome). The teacher's version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was used to measure children's peer relationship problems at 10–11 years (mediator). We adjusted for area-level socio-economic status and child's early academic attainment, and examined whether mediation was moderated by sex. The results showed that low facial emotion recognition ability in childhood was associated with low academic attainment at age 16 years. There was evidence of mediation via peer problems, with an estimated 19% of the total effect mediated by errors in emotion recognition. Further analyses showed that there was no difference in mediation for boys versus girls. The findings suggest that children's facial emotion recognition ability and peer relationships should be potential targets for programmes that aim to improve children's educational attainment and their social and emotional competence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101942
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
Early online date13 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2021


  • Academic attainment
  • Facial emotion recognition
  • Gender
  • Peer relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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