Young Children’s Reasoning About the Effects of Emotional and Physiological States on Academic Performance


  • This work was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant (SBE-0354453), as part of the Science of Learning Centers program, and by the Tamaki Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

    We would like to thank our research participants and the school and research staff who contributed to this study. We also thank Erika J. Ruberry for her assistance with the project.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jennifer Amsterlaw, Department of Psychology, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, Box 357988, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study assessed young children’s understanding of the effects of emotional and physiological states on cognitive performance. Five, 6-, 7-year-olds, and adults (N= 96) predicted and explained how children experiencing a variety of physiological and emotional states would perform on academic tasks. Scenarios included: (a) negative and positive emotions, (b) negative and positive physiological states, and (c) control conditions. All age groups understood the impairing effects of negative emotions and physiological states. Only 7-year-olds, however, showed adult-like reasoning about the potential enhancing effects of positive internal states and routinely cited cognitive mechanisms to explain how internal states affect performance. These results shed light on theory-of-mind development and also have significance for children’s everyday school success.