The process by which infants and children begin developing the capacity to experience, express, and interpret emotions.
The study of the emotional development of infants and children is relatively new, having been studied empirically only during the past few decades. Researchers have approached this area from a variety of theoretical perspectives, including those of social constructionism, differential emotion theory, and social learning theory. Each of these approaches explores the way infants and children develop emotionally, differing mainly on the question of whether emotions are learned or biologically predetermined, as well as debating the way infants and children manage their emotional experiences and behavior.
Adolescents have become sophisticated at regulating their emotions. They have developed a wide vocabulary with which to discuss, and thus influence, emotional states of themselves and others. Adolescents are adept at interpreting social situations as part of the process of managing emotional displays.
It is widely believed that by adolescence children have developed a set of expectations, referred to as scripts, about how various people will react to their emotional displays, and regulate their displays in accordance with these scripts. Research in this area has found that in early adolescence, children begin breaking the emotionally intimate ties with their parents and begin forming them with peers. In one study, for instance, eighth-grade students, particularly boys, reported regulating (hiding) their emotions to (from) their mothers more than did either fifth- or eleventh-grade adolescents. This dip in emotional expressivity towards mothers appeared to be due to the boys' expectations of receiving less emotional support from their mothers. This particular finding demonstrates the validity of the script hypothesis of self-regulations; children's expectations of receiving little emotional support from their mothers, perhaps based on past experience, guide their decisions to regulate emotions more strictly in their mothers' presence.
Another factor that plays a significant role in the ways adolescents regulate emotional displays is their heightened sensitivity to others' evaluations of them, a sensitivity which cans result in acute self-awareness and
As expected, getider plays a significant role in the types of emotions displayed by adolescents. Boys are less likely than girls to disclose their fearful emotions during times of distress. This reluctance was similarly supported by boys' belief that they would receive less understanding and, in fact, probably be belittled, for expressing both aggressive and vulnerable emotions.
During middle childhood, children begin to understand that the emotional states of others are not as simple as they imagined in earlier years, and that they are often the result of complex causes, some of which are not externally obvious. They also come to understand that it is possible to experience more than one emotion at a time, although this ability is somewhat restricted and evolves slowly. As Susan Harter and Nancy Whitsell demonstrated, seven-year-old children are able to understand that a person can feel two emotions simultaneously, even if the emotions are positive and negative. Children can feel happy and excited that their parents bought them a bicycle, or angry and sad that a friend had hurt them, but they deny the possibility of experiencing "mixed feelings." It is not until age ten that children are capable of understanding that one can experience two seemingly contradictory emotions, such as feeling happy that they were chosen for a team but also nervous about their responsibility to play well.
Displays of empathy also increase in frequency during this stage. Children from families that regularly discuss the complexity of feelings will develop empathy more readily than those whose families avoid such topics. Furthermore, parents who set consistent behavioral limits and who themselves show high levels of concern for others are more likely to produce empathic children than parents who are punitive or particularly harsh in restricting behavior.
Bretherton, Inge and Janet Fritz, et al. "Learning to Talk about Emotions: A Functionalist Perspective," Child Development 57, 1986, pp. 529-48.
Gnepp, Jackie, and Debra Hess. "Children's Understanding of Verbal and Facial Display Rules," Developmental Psychology 22, no. 1,1986, pp. 103-08.
Malatesta, Carol Zander, and Jeannette Haviland. "Learning Display Rules: The Socialization of Emotion Expression in Infancy." Child Development 53, 1982, pp. 991-1003.
Zahn-Waxier, Carolyn, and Marian Radke-Yarrow, et al. "Development of Concern for Others," Developmental Psychology 28, no. 1, 1992, pp. 126-36.
University of Maine