Children's ability to seek information to make emotional inferences
Johnson, Linda Koch
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The present studies investigated children's ability to seek information in order to disambiguate emotionally ambiguous situations. The types of information investigated included information about a person's appraisals, past experiences, and past behaviors (called personal information), thoughts, feelings, and desires (called internal process information) , situational elements (called external situation information), and overt external behaviors (called behavioral evidence information). Although there has been research on children's use of personal information in order to predict or explain other's emotional reactions, there has been very little research on the type of information children seek when attempting to predict other people's emotional reactions. The present studies examined this topic. Study 1 focused on the type of information children request when attempting to predict another's emotional reaction to an ambiguous situation. Third-, fifth-, and seventh-graders were presented with stories in which the story character might have been expected to feel one way or another (e.g., happy or sad). Subjects were asked to generate three pieces of information which would help them to figure out how the story character felt in the ambiguous situation. These pieces of information were then coded and analyzed. Study 2 examined the importance children placed on the types of information recorded in Study 1. Fourth-, sixth-, and eighth-graders heard the same stories used in Study 1, and rank ordered samples of the four types of information identified in the first study. The results of the two studies indicate that children's ability to recognize the diagnosticity of various types of information, including personal information, is developed by age 9. However, children's ability to generate personal information which goes beyond the scope of the situation does not develop fully until at least age 13. Familiarity with the situation seems to foster the ability to seek personal information in children at the ages studied, while limited experience with a situation makes requests for personal information less likely.