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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Philosophy of mind in children, Vocabulary-Ability testing, Reasoning in children, Language and emotions, Emotional development, Vocabulary, Theory of mind, Second order theory of mind, Children


How do children learn what the words for emotions mean? How do children learn to correctly apply the words for emotions to their own inner states? And how do they use that knowledge to reason about how other people feel? This set of questions is at the heart of the current research. Past research suggests that in order to predict others' emotions children simulate how they would feel in the given situation in order to know how the other person feels (Harris, 1989). The current research tested 32 elementary school students in three grades on a series of scenarios that was designed to determine how they made predictions about the characters' emotions. There were three types of scenarios that each required a different type of reasoning. We were interested to see what type of scenario was the most challenging, as this would suggest how children learn about and reason about emotions. The participants also completed the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test in order to determine how knowledge of vocabulary is related to the ability to predict others' emotion. An additional distinction that this research tests is the difference between emotions that are portrayed vividly (i.e. happy and angry) on the face and those that are portrayed subtly (i.e. calm and worried) on the face. We predicted that this variable would affect how easily the participants were able to predict the emotions based on the events and actions in the story. The data suggest that this is the case; the vivid emotions were easier to predict. We also found differences in the participant's responses to the different types of scenarios. The most difficult type of scenario is the type that required the students to make predictions about the character's emotion based on an idiosyncratic preference. This result has interesting implications for explaining how children learn about others inner states.




54 p. Honors project-Smith College, 2013. Includes bibliographical references (p. 52-54)