British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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

Children's understanding of embarrassment: Integrating mental time travel and mental state information (pages 324-339)

The current study investigated 4‐ to 8‐year‐olds’ (= 81) understanding of embarrassment and their ability to integrate temporal and mental state information to predict and explain emotions. Participants heard stories describing characters commit trivial social transgressions, and then the next day, characters found themselves in the same situation that led to the previous transgression. For some story endings, participants were asked to predict and explain how the character felt, and for others, participants were told the character started to feel embarrassed and they were asked to explain why. Participants’ responses were coded and analysed using nonparametric statistical tests. Kruskal–Wallis analyses revealed significant developments occur between 6 and 8 years in children's understanding of embarrassment and their ability to explain individual's emotion as caused by anticipating the reoccurrence of a previous embarrassing event. Younger children demonstrated a basic knowledge of embarrassment but failed to demonstrate more advanced understanding of the emotion. Findings from the current study indicate children reach a more mature understanding of embarrassment and the implications of committing social transgressions between 7 and 8 years. Finally, the current study contributes to the literature on children's ability to infer mental states and temporally connect experiences.

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