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Display rule behavior and understanding in preschool children

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Display rule behavior and understanding were compared in 72 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls. In Study 1, children listened to stories in which the protagonist was in a positive or in a negative mood. The motivation to hide his or her emotional state was either prosocial or self-centered. Stories with no discrepancy between feeling and expression were included as a control condition. Subjects were asked to identify the protagonist's real feelings and facial expression. Older children were more accurate than younger ones in recognizing that real and apparent emotions did not coincide in the self-centered and prosocial stories. Girls produced more correct answers than boys in the prosocial condition. In Study 2, children were examined in a situation in which they were expected to hide their disappointment about an unattractive gift. They were either observed (social situation) or not observed (nonsocial situation) by the experimenter when receiving the gift. Irrespective of age, preschoolers regulated their nonverbal behavior appropriately in the social situation. The comparison of both data sets revealed that even younger preschoolers follow display rules in their behavior before fully grasping the distinction between real and apparent emotions.

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Author information

Correspondence to Ingrid E. Josephs.

Additional information

This article is based on a portion of the author's doctoral dissertation. It is dedicated to the author's supervisor, Klaus Schneider, who died in January 1994. The author wishes to thank her second supervisor, Carolyn Saarni, for her many helpful suggestions. Thanks are extended to the children and teachers who participated in this research. Gratitude is also expressed to Monika Rüth for her assistance in data collection and coding.

Portions of these data were presented at the 60th meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, March 1993.

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Josephs, I.E. Display rule behavior and understanding in preschool children. J Nonverbal Behav 18, 301–326 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02172291

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  • Social Psychology
  • Facial Expression
  • Correct Answer
  • Emotional State
  • Preschool Child