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Exploring sex differences in the emotional content of mother-child conversations about the past


In this study, the ways in which mothers and their 30–35-month-old children discussed the emotional aspects of past experiences was explored. Although previous research has established that children this age talk about emotions, and some studies have found sex differences between mother-daughter and mother-son dyads in these conversations, no study has examined explicitly the way in which emotions about the past are discussed. This is an important research question because emotional aspects of events may help provide an evaluative framework for thinking about and talking about the past. The results suggest that, with daughters, mothers focus more on positive emotions and tend not to attribute negative emotions to the child. With sons, positive and negative emotions are discussed equally. Moreover, mothers never discuss anger with their daughters but they do with their sons. Finally, mother-daughter conversations emphasize the emotional state itself, whereas mother-son conversations often discuss the causes and consequences of emotions. The way in which these patterns might contribute to children's developing understanding of gender-appropriate emotional reactions are discussed.

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This research was supported in part by an Emory University Faculty Grant. I would like to thank all of the mothers and children who participated in this study, and I would especially like to thank Anne Wolf, Nicole Harsch, and Winifred Diggs for their invaluable assistance in data collection and coding.

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Fivush, R. Exploring sex differences in the emotional content of mother-child conversations about the past. Sex Roles 20, 675–691 (1989).

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  • Research Question
  • Social Psychology
  • Negative Emotion
  • Emotional State
  • Past Experience