Young Children’s Understanding of Emotion Situations
in Anger and Sadness
2009, 41 (01):
Anger and sadness as two basic negative emotions play important roles in children’s social development. Anger was associated with sadness in many situations. But anger was considered as a self-focused emotion while sadness was considered as an other-focused one (Kitayama, 2000). Earlier studies on children’s understanding of emotion situations suggested that young children began to infer basic emotions from situations (Denham, 1990). This study tended to examine inference of children’s emotion in angry and sad situations in three kinds of adults (children’s mothers, children’s teachers and undergraduate students), in order to explore whether these emotion situations, which were originally proposed by Western researchers, apply to Chinese background. Based on the standard of reports of three adults, we further aimed to reveal young children’s development of understanding of emotion situations in anger and sadness.
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Children who were 46- to 81-month-old (N=120) from two kindergartens and their mothers (N=113) were recruited from Chinese middle-class population. Children’s teachers (N=42) and undergraduate students (N=221) were also participated in this study. By filling out the diffuse questionnaire, adults (mothers, teachers and undergraduate students) judged children’s probabilities of anger and sadness elicited in 22 hypothetical situations selected from Western studies (8 angry situations, 9 sad situations, 5 angry-sad equivocal situations) (Denham, 1990a, 1990b; Glasberg, 1981; Gnepp, 1987; Hubbard, 2001; Hughes, 2002; Jenkins, 2000; Levine, 1995; Ribordy, 1988; Rothbart, 1994; Wang, 2003; Whitesell, 1996; Zeman, 1996). Using clinical interview with a computer program, children were asked to choose the facial expression (anger, sadness) depicting the protagonist’s feeling states in the same situations. The Chi-Square analyses and T-Test analyses were performed.
Results indicated that: (1) Among 22 situations, three kinds of adults reported children would feel angry in 6 situations such as “Award taken away by peer”, “Toy snatched away by peer”, “Being hit by peer”, and would feel sad in 6 situations such as “Losing favorite toy”, “Best friend moved away”, “Not get the wanted toy”. Moreover, adults’ understanding was consistent with the definition of previous researchers. (2) According to the standard of reports of three adults, children were scored 1 point when their reports were consistent with the standard, scored 0 point when not. Children’s understanding of sad situations was better than their understanding of angry situations. (3) The 5-year-old and 6-year-old children’s understanding of sad situations was better than 4-year-old children.
In conclusions, the situations in anger and sadness defined by Western researchers were consistent with the reference of children’s emotion in children’s mothers, children’s teachers and undergraduate students. Children’s understanding of sad situations was gradually developed in early childhood. Further research about the development of the understanding of angry situations in older children will be proposed