Children’s emotions

How do you feel?

This may seem to be a trivial question. In this short form, you would usually say “good”, because Westerners are educated to do so. Therefore, researchers have to be a little bit more specific about how to ask:

How happy or sad do you feel? How calm or aroused do you feel?

Still, no hard-to-answer questions, right? But now, think about asking a 4-year old these questions. Suddenly, getting a reliable answer is not so trivial anymore.

Likewise, we have a range of standardized instruments (albeit providing questionable interpretations) to measure adult’s emotional experiences. However, it remains questionable to what extent we can use them with (young) children. Especially, it is hard to make these instruments usable in a flexible, uncomplicated way, e.g. in a portable PC-version.

Our lab has designed a study procedure that adapts one of the most popular tools used to assess adults’ basic self-reports of emotion for the use with children. That is to say: we designed a Self-Assessment Manikin rating experiment for laptop PCs easily comprehensible to children. The study was presented for the first time at ICAP 2014 – and of course you can download the complete presentation here.

To put the results in a nutshell: The only difference between adults’ and children’s response behavior was that children preferred rather than neglected the extreme (sad/happy, calm/aroused) ends of the rating scales. Nonetheless, their mean ratings for a given picture as well as occurence of other response patterns were highly similar to those of adults:






Distribution of response patterns for valence ratings of children and adults


Hence, we propose that SAMs can be easily used to assess children’s self-reported emotions (starting at age 4), e.g. to investigate how they emotionally experience other’s need for help.


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