How do people represent their own and others' emotional experiences? Contemporary emotion theories and growing evidence suggest that the conceptual representation of emotion plays a central role in how people understand the emotions both they and other people feel 1-6. Although decades of research indicate that adults typically represent emotion concepts as multidimensional, with valence (positive-negative) and arousal (activating-deactivating) as two primary dimensions 7-10, little is known about how this bidimensional (or circumplex) representation arises 11. Here we show that emotion representations develop from a monodimensional focus on valence to a bidimensional focus on both valence and arousal from age 6 to age 25. We investigated potential mechanisms underlying this effect and found that increasing verbal knowledge mediated the development of emotion representation over and above three other potential mediators: fluid reasoning, the general ability to represent non-emotional stimuli bidimensionally and task-related behaviours (for example, using extreme ends of rating scales). These results indicate that verbal development aids the expansion of emotion concept representations (and potentially emotional experiences) from a 'positive or negative' dichotomy in childhood to a multidimensional organization in adulthood.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience