Children's Expression of Emotional and Cognitive Mental States in their Story Generation from Pictures

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  • Background: The term mental state can be used to describe a person’s emotional or cognitive condition (i.e. feelings, thoughts, or perceptions). Narratives provide an important context for the use of mental state words, since stories in Western culture frequently describe characters’ thoughts and feelings. As children develop the ability to understand other individuals’ perspectives, they may be expected to produce a greater number and variety of mental state words in narrative contexts. Purpose: Our study was designed to investigate children’s use of mental state words or expressions in narratives. We compared the frequency and type of mental state terms used by children ages 4-9 in a narrative context. By means of such analysis, we hoped to gain insight into the ways in which the use of emotional and cognitive mental state terms develops over the course of childhood. Methods/Procedure: Our participants were 60 randomly selected, typically developing children from the ENNI normative sample: 10 children (5 male, 5 female) from each year in the 4-9 year old age range. We documented the number of cognitive and emotional words present in each participant’s transcript. Subsequently, regression analyses were used to determine whether syntax, story grammar, and/or age predict the type and quantity of mental state words or expressions that typically developing children use in narratives. Results: Only participant age was found to predict the percentage of emotional mental state terms used in children’s narratives. The regression analyses did not reveal any significant predictors for the percentage of cognitive mental state terms used in a narrative context.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International