Children's Beliefs about the Social Consequences of Emotional Expression
|Degree:||Ph.D. in Psychology|
This study investigated young children's expectations regarding others' potential reactions to their emotional displays. These expectations were considered precursors to the display rules for emotional expression evident in middle childhood. Possible gender differences in the children's expectancies for the expression of anger, sadness and fear were examined.
Preschool and early grade school children (ages 4.3-6.4 & 7.0-8.7, respectively) were presented with eight hypothetical narratives illustrated with felt puppets. The identity of an audience figure accompanying the protagonist of each narrative varied between subjects in three experimental conditions: mother, father, and same-sex peer. The narratives also varied the social context within which the protagonist expressed an emotion. The scenarios were qualitatively coded to assess if children expected favorable or unfavorable reactions from the audience figure to the protagonist's emotional display.
The expression of anger elicited substantial unfavorable expectancies from children in both age groups but the expression of sadness and fear did not. It was theorized that the display rules for these emotions have different developmental timelines. Anger receives early socialization pressure while sadness and fear are not sanctioned until after approximately age 8. Children expected peers and parents to respond equally unfavorably to expressions of anger, suggesting that both groups are important agents in emotional socialization at this age. Unlike the preschoolers, the early grade school children used social information about a provocateur's status and intentions to mediate their expectations regarding audience reactions to anger. The only significant gender difference to emerge was that the older girls expected mothers to be more disapproving of anger than fathers or peers. It was suggested that gender role requirements for emotional expression may not be enforced until children reach grade school ages and that the same-sex parent may come to be the primary socialization agent for these roles. Asian-American children held fewer unfavorable expectancies for the expression of anger than children of other ethnicities. African-American girls held more unfavorable expectancies for the expression of anger than African-American boys. Future research should elaborate upon the specific content and developmental timelines associated with different cultures' emotional display rules.