IOE EPrints

Children's understanding of mental states as causes of emotions

Rieffe, Caroline and Meerum Terwogt, Mark and Cowan, Richard (2005) Children's understanding of mental states as causes of emotions. Infant and Child Development, 14. pp. 259-272. ISSN 1522-7227. DOI UNSPECIFIED

PDF (Rieffe2005Children's259.pdf)
Rieffe2005Children's259.pdf - Other

Download (282Kb) | Preview


Theory of Mind studies of emotion usually focus on children?s ability to predict other people's feelings. This study examined children?s spontaneous references to mental states in explaining others? emotions. Children (4-, 6- and 10-year-olds, n = 122) were told stories and asked to explain both typical and atypical emotional reactions of characters. Because atypical emotional reactions are unexpected, we hypothesized that children would be more likely to refer to mental states, such as desires and beliefs, in explaining them than when explaining typical emotions. From the development of lay theories of emotion, derived the prediction that older children would refer more often to mental states than younger children. The developmental shift from a desire-psychology to a belief-psychology led to the expectation that references to desires would increase at an earlier age than references to beliefs. Our findings confirmed these expectations only partly, because the nature of the emotion (happiness, anger, sadness or fear) interacted with these factors. Whereas anger, happiness and sadness mainly evoked desire references, fear evoked more belief references, even in four-year-olds. The fact that other factors besides age can also play an influential role in children?s mental state reasoning is discussed.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: The definitive version is available at This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Rieffe, C., Meerum Terwogt, M., & Cowan, R. (2005). Children's understanding of mental states as causes of emotions. Infant and Child Development, 14, 259-272, which has been published in final form at
Controlled Keywords: emotion understanding, desires, beliefs, theory-of-mind
Divisions: IOE Departments > Departments > Psychology and Human Development
Depositing User: IOE Repository Editor (2)
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2009 14:43
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2015 08:09
View Item View Item