The contributions to the recognition of emotional signals of (a) experience and learning versus (b) internal predispositions are difficult to investigate because children are virtually always exposed to complex emotional experiences from birth. The recognition of emotion among physically abused and physically neglected preschoolers was assessed in order to examine the effects of atypical experience on emotional development. In Experiment 1, children matched a facial expression to an emotional situation. Neglected children had more difficulty discriminating emotional expressions than did control or physically abused children. Physically abused children displayed a response bias for angry facial expressions. In Experiment 2, children rated the similarity of facial expressions. Control children viewed discrete emotions as dissimilar, neglected children saw fewer distinctions between emotions, and physically abused children showed the most variance across emotions. These results suggest that to the extent that children's experience with the world varies, so too will their interpretation and understanding of emotional signals.