Emotion Detective

App review by
Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Media
Emotion Detective App Poster Image
Kids practice ID'ing emotions; some activities disconnected.

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The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about identifying emotional expressions in others, making emotional expressions themselves, and using other cues (body language, context, language) to identify someone's emotional state. A couple of exercises also touch on conversation skills, such as starting a conversation, judging your conversation partner’s interest in what you’re talking about, and learning what phrases certain body language and contextual clues suggest. Emotion Detective can be useful for kids who have trouble identifying or expressing emotions, but the app's detective narrative is disconnected from the emotion activities.

Ease of Play

Games are easy to play and navigate.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Emotion Detective was designed for kids with autism spectrum disorder or any kids having trouble reading emotions or relating to others. The emotion exercises explore a variety of emotions (angry, happy, sad, or surprised, for example), and some scenes depict situations that may invoke these emotions (a picture suggests two people are arguing and are thus angry). In one exercise, kids use the device's camera or browse the photo album to take or find a picture of themselves making a face to match a given emotion. Emotion Detective was made in Australia, so it features great Australian accents. But, at $13.99, the app is definitely on the expensive side.

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What's it about?

Kids create a detective portfolio with a picture and a name and then choose from four detective scenarios describing crises in the land of Emotiana. A number of emotional-awareness exercises follow, in which kids depict emotions with real and animated faces, choose the correct emotion in a multiple-choice format, take pictures of faces showing different emotions and use the pictures to draw on areas of the face that change with each emotion, listen to a conversation and identify how a character is feeling, and look at a picture and use body language and context to choose the appropriate phrase or emotion. Interspersed are "Where’s Waldo"-type tasks, in which kids must find a missing item. When kids finish all the emotion exercises and locate all the missing items, they've solved the mystery. Kids can save their progress mid-game and create multiple accounts.

Is it any good?

The emotional awareness activities in EMOTION DETECTIVE provide a good variety of exercises for learning how to identify and express emotions in different ways and are based on different cues (body language, context, conversation and tone of voice, facial expression, and movement of specific facial muscles). The activities provide great practice for kids who have difficulty reading emotions in others or expressing emotions themselves, although they would be improved by more diversity in actors and situations.

The detective-story narrative is underdeveloped and disconnected from everything else. The search activity is a break from the difficult task of identifying emotions and clearly draws from the theory that kids with ASD tend to be good at picking out details while ignoring background or context. The app would be greatly improved, however, if the detective story were more seamlessly bound to the emotion-identifying activities. Still, the emotion activities are worth looking into, if you're OK with the hefty price tag.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different social situations presented in the exercises. Are any of them familiar? Role-play to explore different outcomes.    

  • Follow discussion prompts and talk about what's going on in each scene in the exercises.

  • Play emotions games -- use the exercises as prompts in making and mirroring emotional expressions together.

App details

  • Device: iPad
  • Skills: Emotional Development: identifying emotions, labeling feelings, perspective taking, self-awareness
  • Price: $7.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Release date: October 19, 2012
  • Category: Education
  • Size: 45.00 MB
  • Publisher: Brooke Purslowe and InGenius Labs
  • Version: 1.1
  • Minimum software requirements: iOS 4.3 or later
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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