Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joseph C. LaVoie

Second Advisor

Kenneth A. Deffenbacher

Third Advisor

Norman H. Hamm


Developmental differences in encoding and decoding abilities were investigated in this study with subjects ranging from 5 years to 88 years of age. The 94 white, middle-class males and females were placed into five age groups. Subjects were asked to encode each of six emotional expressions, after which they were presented with three decoding tasks. The video tape mode required subjects to decode the same six common nonverbal expressions of emotion (i.e., anger, surprise, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust). A second decoding task consisted of four expressions (anger, fear, sadness, happiness) which were schematically depicted. Subjects' decoding of affect in a verbal context was assessed by means of an Emotional Situation Assignment List which presented emotional evoking situations for which the subject was asked to assign one of the six affect types. Subjects' encoding accuracy did not change after 9 years of age. Decoding accuracy of animate faces and situational cues portrayed in video tape mini scenes increased with age to adulthood, until in old age a decline in accuracy was observed. Subjects' identification of low, medium, and high intensity in expression increased in accuracy between the child! groups not increasing significantly for adults. Schematic face decoding accuracy for the youngest children, in contrast to their accuracy on the video tape labeling, was not different from adult accuracy. Young-, and mid-adult groups' decoding performances did not differ. Few sex differences were found. The aged subjects showed the most inaccuracies in both decoding tasks. These results suggest that the differences between the children and adults may have resulted from a deficit in cognitive skills. The age differences between the aged subjects' accuracy and the other adults' accuracy is believed due, in part, to a cognitive style preference for problem: solving resulting from different life, styles.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Psychology and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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