'When I say a naughty word'. A longitudinal study of young children's accounts of anger and sadness in themselves and close others

C Hughes, J Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Understanding negative emotion is important for young children's social relationships, yet there is very little research on children's perceptions of emotions in people with whom they share a close relationship. In one exception, Dunn and Hughes (1998) reported: ( 1) qualitative contrasts in 4-year-olds' accounts of the causes of emotions in self, mother and best friend (e.g. maternal anger was better understood than was friends' anger, but accounts of sadness showed the opposite pattern) and (2) significant correlations between overall response quality and both language and theory of mind performance. This study applied the same methods to a larger (N = 87) and more diverse sample of 4-year-olds, who were all interviewed again at age 7. Significant age-related increases in children's accounts of anger and sadness were found in (1) reference to specific agents, especially peers and siblings; (2) themes of loss (for sadness) and interpersonal control (for anger) and (3) frequency of mental-state reference. Seven-year-old girls referred more often than boys to agents and loss/control themes; mental-state reference showed no gender difference at either time point. Our results highlight striking individual differences, a significant association between theory of mind performance and the diversity of children's emotion accounts, and the particular salience of mental states in children's accounts of sadness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515 - 535
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Volume20
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2002

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