Pubertal development of the understanding of social emotions: Implications for education.
Burnett S., Thompson S., Bird G., Blakemore S-J.
Recent developmental cognitive neuroscience research has supported the notion that puberty and adolescence are periods of profound socio-emotional development. The current study was designed to investigate whether the onset of puberty marks an increase in the awareness of complex, or "mixed," emotions. Eighty-three female participants (aged 9-16 years) were divided into three groups according to a self-report measure of puberty stage (early-, mid- and post-puberty). Participants were presented with emotional scenarios, and used four linear scales to rate their emotional response to each scenario. Scenarios were designed to evoke social emotions (embarrassment or guilt) or basic emotions (anger or fear), where social emotions are defined as those which require the representation of others' mental states. We measured the relative complexity or "mixedness" of emotional responses, that is, the degree to which participants reported feeling more than one emotion for a given scenario. We found that mixed emotion reporting increased between early- and post-puberty for social emotion scenarios, and showed no relationship with age, whereas there was no change in mixed emotion reporting for basic emotion scenarios across age or puberty groups. This suggests that the awareness of mixed emotions develops during the course of puberty, and that this development is specific to social emotions. Results are discussed in the context of brain development across puberty and adolescence, with speculation regarding the potential implications for education.