New York, June 12 (IANS) Adolescents do not distinguish between negative emotions as clearly as younger children and adults in their 20s do, a new study suggests.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, sheds light on how experiences of emotion vary at different ages and why adolescence may be a particularly vulnerable period in emotional development.
“We found a pretty interesting developmental trajectory when it comes to emotion differentiation,” said lead author Erik Nook from the Harvard University.
“Children tend to report feeling only one emotion at a time, producing differentiated but sparse emotional experiences. Adolescents begin to co-experience emotions but they are not well differentiated, and adults both co-experience and differentiate emotions” Nook added.
The researchers suggest that the influx of co-experienced emotions in adolescence makes this a period of more murkiness in what emotions one is feeling.
For the study, 143 participants, ranging in age from five to 25, completed a set of emotion-related tasks.
The researchers asked participants to define 27 different emotion terms. The researchers used five of these emotion terms — angry, disgusted, sad, scared, and upset — in a subsequent emotion differentiation task.
In this task, participants viewed a series of 20 images showing a negative scene of some kind.
They indicated how much they felt each of the five negative emotions when looking at an image by sliding a bar on a scale to the appropriate number (from 0 not at all to 100 very).
The results revealed a U-shaped pattern in participants’ experiences of negative emotions, with differentiation between emotions decreasing from childhood to adolescence and increasing again from adolescence to early adulthood.
Although children showed high emotion differentiation, their ratings differed from participants of other ages in that the emotions they reported did not overlap — they showed a stronger tendency to report experiencing one emotion at a time, the researchers said.
Adolescents, on the other hand, were more likely to report experiencing several highly-correlated emotions at one time.
Adults tended to report feeling several emotions simultaneously, but they appeared to be able to distinguish between emotions across trials, they added.