Gender differences in young children's expressions of anger and happiness in challenging situations

Open Access
Klein, Melanie Rachael
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jeanette N Cleveland, Honors Advisor
  • gender differences
  • emotion expression
  • young children
There are many psychological disorders linked to poor control of emotions. For example, oppositional defiant disorder includes poor down-regulation of anger, and depression includes poor up-regulation of happiness. Moreover, evidence indicates that boys are more prone to oppositional disorder and girls to depressive disorders (Zahn-Waxler, 1993). This may indicate that boys and girls differ in the expression of emotions like anger and happiness, particularly in challenging situations. Indeed boys exhibit more anger than girls (Barrett, Robin, Pietromonaco, & Eyssell, 1998), and that girls exhibit more happiness than boys (Cole, 1986), in challenging situations. However, the age at which this gender difference first emerges and the contexts in which it appears remain unknown. This study examined gender differences in early childhood (24, 36, and 48 months) during anger-eliciting tasks with three different interpersonal contexts (with mother, with an examiner, and being alone). In the Waiting Task children had to wait to open a gift until their mother finished working. In the Perfect Circle Task, an examiner criticized the child’s drawing. Finally, in the Transparent Box Task, the child had to open a locked box to gain a prize but unknowingly had the wrong keys. Expressions of anger and happiness were coded for each task at each age on the basis of nonverbal behavior. To examine when gender differences emerge, and in which contexts, boys’ and girls’ anger and happiness was compared at each age for each task. The findings are discussed in terms of ranked aggregate scores for emotion expression within 15 second epochs.