British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 33 Issue 3 (September 2015), Pages 259-403

Person‐centred positive emotions, object‐centred negative emotions: 2‐year‐olds generalize negative but not positive emotions across individuals (pages 391-397)

Prior work suggests that young children do not generalize others' preferences to new individuals. We hypothesized (following Vaish et al., 2008, Psychol. Bull., 134, 383–403) that this may only hold for positive emotions, which inform the child about the person's attitude towards the object but not about the positivity of the object itself. It may not hold for negative emotions, which additionally inform the child about the negativity of the object itself. Two‐year‐old children saw one individual (the emoter) emoting positively or negatively towards one and neutrally towards a second novel object. When a second individual then requested an object, children generalized the emoter's negative but not her positive emotion to the second individual. Children thus draw different inferences from others' positive versus negative emotions: Whereas they view others' positive emotions as person centred, they may view others' negative emotions as object centred and thus generalizable across people. The results are discussed with relation to the functions and implications of the negativity bias.

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