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Children Recognize Complex Emotions at Young Age

Children Recognize Complex Emotions at Young Age

In a new research project, a group of preschoolers were given one shot to beat the world’s fastest builder of block towers.

However, while unknown to the children, the game was rigged as it had already been decided who would capture the victory and who would see it slip away.

The losers shook it off without it ruining their mood.

The winners — even the two-year-olds — showed some obvious swagger: heads held high, chests puffed out, and hands on hips in a victorious power pose.

The experiment shows that children show emotions much younger than they understand them. That’s why the psychologists who staged the contest asked the children afterward to choose from a set of four pictures the one that best shows how they feel.

The children involved in the study recognized pride in other people at age four. They could see it in themselves at age five.

That gives parents an early timeline for when children are ready to learn important coping skills.

“When parents talk to their kids about emotions, those children demonstrate better emotional regulation as they get older,” said psychology professor Dr. Ross Flom of Brigham Young University.

This means as children reach age four, they are ready for conversations about feelings to move beyond happy, sad, or afraid.

Parents can help them learn and navigate more complex feelings like pride, optimism, disappointment, and frustration.

Flom mentored two Brigham Young University students on the project, Darren Garcia and Rebecca Janis. Garcia is the lead author of the newly published study. He’s also a father who learned in this study how important it is for children to accomplish goals.

“One thing I learned from this research is how important it is for us to develop clear standards and goals with children that are doable yet challenging,” said Garcia.

Source: Brigham Young University

Children Recognize Complex Emotions at Young Age

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Children Recognize Complex Emotions at Young Age. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 13 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.