New research calls for greater support for adults with intellectual disabilities

16 February 2016

Newly published research from the University of Derby suggests there may be a need for greater support to help adults with intellectual disabilities to integrate into society, particularly in current Government schemes concerning emotion recognition skills.

In the UK, a variety of schemes currently exist to aid the successful integration of adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities into general society. The study by Derby aims to highlight that one factor, which may prove important to the success of such schemes is social competence and therefore, understanding the facial expressions of others is critical.

The study, titled: Recognition of subtle and universal facial expressions in a community-based sample of adults classified with intellectual disability was conducted by undergraduate Psychology student Sara Owens and supervised by Dr Frances Maratos, Reader in Emotion Science, both at the University of Derby.

“Previous research in this area is lacking, especially in community based samples and when looking at more subtle facial expressions. Emotional recognition is a key factor in social functioning and maintaining social relationships,” said Dr Maratos.

Dr Frances Maratos in the atrium

Participants were tested across three facial emotion tasks in the study: categorising emotions, recognising how positive or negative the emotion is, and recognising how excited or calm the emotion is. Three categories of emotion were used: basic (happy, sad), subtle (critical, compassionate) and neutral (‘a blank face’).

Findings from the research showed that intellectually disabled adults were significantly impaired when labelling emotions, especially neutral and subtle expressions. It was also found that the intellectually disabled adults struggled to ‘read’ how excited or calm the faces were; especially those showing compassionate and angry expressions.

The researchers say that further research in this area needed but tentatively suggest that Government schemes should consider including facial recognition skills training.

Dr Maratos added: “This research is important since current initiatives such as ‘personalisation’ do not appear to have schemes supporting training in this area. Yet, being able to recognise and understand the emotions of others, through reading facial expressions, is an extremely important nonverbal social skill.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, which is published on behalf of Mencap and in association with the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities (IASSID).