Student Research - Author: Lynne Kaplan

Advisor: Kimberly Wright Cassidy

Children's Beliefs About Emotion Expression

Children’s beliefs about emotion and their expected consequences of emotion expression influence the likelihood that children will either express or suppress their emotions (Fuchs & Thelen, 1988; Shipman & Zeman, 2001). Inhibiting emotions has been associated with internalizing symptoms (Zeman, Shipman & Suveg, 2002), a negative impact on social adjustment (Gross & Levenson, 1997) and cognitive difficulties (Richards & Gross, 1999). Beliefs about emotion expression were examined as a function of gender and context (class versus a single peer) in 82 third and fourth grade students (41 boys and 41 girls) and 29 mothers. Participants answered questions in response to eight emotion-related vignettes and completed a task to examine gender stereotypes (Birnbaum et. al., 1980) related to emotional expression. Findings indicated that children believe emotions should be expressed, or suppressed, at varying levels depending upon the emotion. Participants expected positive consequences for emotion expression and found it equally acceptable for boys and girls to express emotions. Context did not impact prescriptions of emotion but did impact expectations about consequences such that children anticipated less positive responses to expressions of fear and happiness in the group setting versus the single peer setting. Children’s degree of gender stereotyping was unrelated to their beliefs about emotion. Mothers’ beliefs about gender and emotion were unrelated to their children’s. The psychological implications of these findings as well as limitations of the present research and suggestions for future research were discussed.