Emotion understanding involves both labeling the discrete emotion and appreciating the significant person-environment relation. While previous work has examined children’s emotion labeling, how children appreciate relational elements of emotion contexts remains understudied. This study examined how contextual information influenced young children’s emotion labeling and attention to emotion-related elements. Children aged 3.5-years (n = 22; 13 female) and 4.5-years (n = 23; 11 female) described images of 5 emotion faces and 5 emotion contexts (anger, sadness, disgust, fear, and joy). Analyses of emotion labeling revealed that 4.5-year-olds were more accurate in labeling disgust when the facial expression was presented with contextual information than the face alone (p = .02). No differences were present for the 3.5-year-olds. We also examined children’s highlighting of distinct relational elements in the context images (the emoter and referent) as a function of the discrete emotion. Analyses of 4.5-year-olds demonstrated significant main effects of picture emotion for mentioning the emoter, p = .02, and the referent, p < .001. Children emphasized the emoter more when describing anger, sadness, and joy contexts than those of fear and disgust, and mentioned the referent more in disgust, fear, and joy contexts than contexts of anger and sadness. No such differential emphasis of relational elements was observed for 3.5-year-olds. These findings highlight developmental differences in how contextual elements differentially impact children’s emotion labeling and how children attend toward specific aspects of discrete emotional contexts. Considerations for future paradigms to explain and extend these findings will be discussed.
Toddlers can infer a person’s preference from a violation to a sampling distribution (i.e., a person repeatedly taking a minority object from a collection; Kushnir, Xu, & Wellman, 2010). These statistical cues are typically used in conjunction with positive emotional expressions conveying one’s preference. Negative emotions, such as disgust and sadness, have been shown to communicate object avoidance and goal incompletion to infants, respectively (Repacholi & Gopnik, 1997; Chiarella & Poulin-Dubios, 2014). However, no studies have examined the expression of these negative emotions in the context of non-random sampling. In the present study, 24-month-old infants (N = 21) observed an experimenter express an emotion (i.e., joy, sadness, or disgust) after random and non-random sampling events. Infants were then allowed to give either the target or the alternate toy to the experimenter. Regardless of random or non-random sampling, X2s (1, 20) < 0.48, ps > .68, infants inferred the experimenter’s preference in the joy condition by giving the target toy (71%), and inferred the experimenter’s dis-preference by giving the alternate toy in the sadness (56%) and disgust (63%) conditions. These findings demonstrate that 2-year-olds use emotion expression to guide their interpretation of preferences over statistical information. An ongoing follow-up study with 30-month-olds suggests their appreciation of sampling violations regardless of negative emotional cues. So, although emotional expressions are exclusively relied on earlier in sampling contexts, distributional information may be appreciated more as toddlers age. Age differences on preference attribution from non-random sampling events in conjunction with discrete emotions will be discussed.