Inferring Emotions From Multiple Cues: Revealing Age-Related Differences in “How” Without Differences in “Can”


  • Preparation of this manuscript was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH39429 to E T Higgins The authors wish to thank Martin Braine, Diane Ruble, and John Bargh for helpful comments and suggestions

should be sent to E T Higgms, Department of Psychology, Columbia University, Schermerhorn Hall, New York, NY 10027


ABSTRACT This study examined differences in children's use of social cues to make emotional inferences Children ages 4, 5, and 8 years were presented with stimuli that depicted another child in affectively congruous and affectively incongruous expression/situation combinations The intensity of positive and negative facial expressions was varied across situations Subjects judged the target's feelings and selected among the alternative facial expressions or situations the one they had just seen No significant age-related differences were found in the extent to which children registered and used both the expressive and situational information when making emotional inferences The main experimental measure asked children to explain their judgments In explaining their judgments, subjects' rationales indicated that they (a) used both the situational and expressive cues, and (b) were sensitive to congruous versus incongruous cues, and even to mild versus strong incongruous cues Children's rationales also reflected a sensitivity to expressive and situational negativity For each age group, the rationales were more elaborate when the cues were problematic Characteristic strategies, however, were also found for each age group These distinct strategies may reflect social-life changes in children's social “theories” of emotion