Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 8, pp 1684–1696 | Cite as

Experiencing and Learning About Emotions: A Longitudinal Analysis of Youth Program Participants

  • Elizabeth VillegasEmail author
  • Marcela Raffaelli
Empirical Research


Organized youth programs provide a context where adolescents experience strong emotions and may develop new ways of thinking about and dealing with emotions. The current study examined youth’s reports of positive and negative emotions arising during the course of their work in different types of project-based programs; learning about emotions from different sources (e.g., from observing peers, interacting with adult staff, or engaging in self-reflection); and longitudinal associations between emotional experiences and learning. Quantitative data were collected at two time points from 319 youth (57% female; M age = 15.8 years; 33% Latino, 29% Black, 32% White, 6% other) participating in 14 Midwestern programs focused on Leadership, Arts and Performance (Arts), and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Overall, positive emotions occurred more frequently than negative emotions, but emotional experiences differed based on the focus of the program. There were few significant differences in emotional learning from various sources (self, peers, staff) across the three types of programs. Multiple regression models controlling for prior learning indicated that, consistent with theory, positive emotions predicted subsequent learning about emotions from all sources. In contrast, negative emotions predicted increased learning from peers but decreased learning from self, suggesting that experiencing negative (vs. positive) emotions may lead youth to attend to different sources of information. The study’s findings have implications for theory, research, and practice.


Organized youth programs Emotional experiences Emotional learning, Longitudinal 



This research was supported by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation #10914 (R. Larson, P.I.; M. Raffaelli, co-P.I.). We thank the participants in this study and acknowledge the contributions of the Pathways Project research team. We are grateful to Reed Larson and Natalie Rusk for their input on this manuscript.

Authors’ Contributions

E.V. conceived the current study under the mentorship of M.R., reviewing the literature, conducting the statistical analysis, and drafting the article. M.R. provided input and guidance to E.V. throughout this process. M.R. was co-PI of the larger study from which data for this article were derived. Both authors read and approved the final version of this article.


The larger study was supported by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation #10914 awarded to R. Larson, P.I. and M. Raffaelli, co-P.I. A subcontract was awarded to Kate Walker, who directed data collection at the University of Minnesota.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This article’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Boards at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (IRB # 11663) and the University of Minnesota (IRB #1106S01502).

Informed Consent

Parental consent and youth assent were obtained. Parents received an information letter with instructions for opting their child out of the study (i.e., the requirement that parents provide written informed consent was waived). Written assent was obtained from all youth who participated in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesUniversity of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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