Negative emotions in adolescence are less distinct

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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.

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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.

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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.

–IANS

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