Exploring the Role of Discrete Emotions


Scientists and practitioners have long been interested in understanding how children remember emotionally significant, stressful personal experiences. This interest has been motivated by theoretical questions concerning the links between emotion and cognition in development and the nature of children's emerging event memories. Interest also has been motivated by applied questions concerning children's memory for traumatic experiences, the development of trauma-related disorders, and children's eyewitness capabilities (see Chapter 8). Indeed, numerous studies have examined children's memory for a range of stressful events (for reviews see Alexander, Quas, & Goodman, 2002; Fivush & Sales, 2004). Despite this extensive body of literature, few studies have focused on the nature of children's emotional experience during a to-be-remembered event. Instead, studies have largely considered how global indices of distress or arousal relate to children's memory. Yet there are several reasons why the specific emotions that arise during an event may affect the extent and content of children's later memory. In the present chapter, we outline these reasons and, in doing so, highlight the need for a new line of research that directly examines the relations between discrete emotions and children's memory for personal experiences.

Our chapter is organized as follows: First, we briefly review studies that have investigated children's memory for emotional, primarily stressful, events. Because several comprehensive reviews of this literature already exist (see Chapter 4; Fivush, 1998; Fivush & Sales, 2004; Howe, 1997; Howe, Cicchetti, & Toth, 2006; Howe, Toth, & Cicchetti, 2006; Ornstein, Manning, & Pelphrey, 1999; von Baeyer, Marche, Rocha, & Salmon, 2004), we focus here on the types of emotional events that have been studied and on the range of emotions children may have experienced during these events. Second, we discuss theoretical perspectives and empirical findings concerning the differing effects of discrete emotions on memory. To date, this research has primarily concerned adults' processing of and memory for emotional information. Third, we describe similarities and differences between children's and adults' appraisals of stressful events. Fourth and finally, we present testable hypotheses concerning how children's discrete emotional reactions to stressful events would likely affect their memories, and we review findings from the few studies that have considered how discrete emotions affect children's memory. We conclude by offering recommendations for pursuing this new, exciting line of inquiry.

Of note, most research concerning emotion and memory in children has investigated how well they remember distressing experiences. As such, our chapter focuses primarily on negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and sadness, each of which may be experienced to various degrees during a stressful event. In the future, it will be necessary to expand this area of research to examine how different positive as well as negative emotions affect children's memory for personal experiences. Also, in our review, we address how children's emotions at the time of encoding relate to their later memory. Of course, emotional experiences are not static states, and individuals' appraisals of situations, emotional responses, and adaptation to emotions continually change, often over extended periods following an event's occurrence (for a review, see Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003). These changing appraisals can affect memory (Baker-Ward, Eaton, & Banks, 2005; Levine, Prohaska, Burgess, Rice, & Laulhere, 2001) and certainly should be considered in future research. Finally, a separate body of research concerning mood-congruency effects on memory also exists. Because this research has not focused on the effects of discrete emotions on the content of children's memory, we will not discuss this topic in depth here. Instead, our review serves as a critical starting point from which we hope a larger body of research concerning discrete emotions and memory across development will emerge.

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