Emotion words, emotion concepts, and emotional development in children: A constructionist hypothesis

Dev Psychol. 2019 Sep;55(9):1830-1849. doi: 10.1037/dev0000686.


In this article, we integrate two constructionist approaches-the theory of constructed emotion and rational constructivism-to introduce several novel hypotheses for understanding emotional development. We first discuss the hypothesis that emotion categories are abstract and conceptual, whose instances share a goal-based function in a particular context but are highly variable in their affective, physical, and perceptual features. Next, we discuss the possibility that emotional development is the process of developing emotion concepts, and that emotion words may be a critical part of this process. We hypothesize that infants and children learn emotion categories the way they learn other abstract conceptual categories-by observing others use the same emotion word to label highly variable events. Finally, we hypothesize that emotional development can be understood as a concept construction problem: a child becomes capable of experiencing and perceiving emotion only when her brain develops the capacity to assemble ad hoc, situated emotion concepts for the purposes of guiding behavior and giving meaning to sensory inputs. Specifically, we offer a predictive processing account of emotional development. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Psychological Theory
  • Social Learning*