Developing an Understanding of Emotion Categories: Lessons from Objects

Trends Cogn Sci. 2020 Jan;24(1):39-51. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2019.10.010. Epub 2019 Nov 29.


How and when infants and young children begin to develop emotion categories is not yet well understood. Research has largely treated the learning problem as one of identifying perceptual similarities among exemplars (typically posed, stereotyped facial configurations). However, recent meta-analyses and reviews converge to suggest that emotion categories are abstract, involving high-dimensional and situationally variable instances. In this paper we consult research on the development of abstract object categorization to guide hypotheses about how infants might learn abstract emotion categories because the two domains present infants with similar learning challenges. In particular, we consider how a developmental cascades framework offers opportunities to understand how and when young children develop emotion categories.

Keywords: abstract categories; emotion concepts; emotional development; object categorization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions*
  • Face
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Learning*