ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2009, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (10): 939-946.

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Developmental Pattern of Preschoolers’ Naive Theory of Emotion

LIU Guo-Xiong;FANG Fu-Xi   

  1. (1School of Educational Science, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China)
    (2Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China)
  • Received:2008-09-27 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2009-10-30 Online:2009-10-30
  • Contact: FANG Fu-Xi

Abstract: Understanding the mentalistic aspects of emotion is relatively late developed ability in preschoolers’ theory of mind. How do they infer peoples’ emotion according to their mental status, such as desire and belief? How do their inferring strategies change as they grow? Vinden (1999), de Rosnay et al. (2004) claimed that preschoolers strategies of emotion cognition changed from situation-desire to belief-desire; however, considering the func-tionalism theory of emotion, we proposed children’s understanding of emotion were associated necessarily with their understanding of both desire and belief, and questioned their idea of situation-desire strategy. To examine this proposal, we combined individual’s different desire status (gratified or not) with their belief in the classical “content false belief” tasks to explore preschoolers’ induction of emotion.
Ninety preschoolers aged 3 to 5 from one common kindergarten in Beijing were recruited and divided into three gender-matched groups: 3-year-olds, Mean age = 3.51; 4-year-olds, Mean age = 4.50; 5-year-olds, Mean age = 5.47. The experiment was conducted individually in which each child was asked to make emotion infer-ences after listening to illustrated stories.
The results demonstrated that preschoolers’, especially 3-year-olds’, understanding of happiness emotion was markedly influenced by their knowledge of whether protagonists’ desire could be gratified by current situa-tion or not, known as the “positive emotion effect”. Preschoolers’ emotion cognition evolved from no use of belief-desire strategy to false use of belief-desire strategy, and finally to correct use of belief-desire strategy. Their understanding of belief-based emotion significantly lagged behind the understanding of false beliefs. Moreover, preschoolers’ judgment of surprises was determined by their understanding of belief and desire as well.
This study highlighted the pivotal role of mental status in children’s understanding of emotions. More im-portantly, current findings provided an overarching developmental schema of preschoolers’ naive theory of emotion.

Key words: emotion cognition, theory of mind, false belief, preschooler