Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Evidence for a Jealousy-Envy Distinction in School-Age Childrens Talk about Emotions


Psychology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Social and Behavioral Sciences


Jealousy and envy are characterized as separate emotions based on different causal frameworks: Whereas jealousy is motivated by a perceived threat to a valuable relationship, envy stems from coveting the possessions or traits of others. Our study is the first to compare childrens talk about jealousy and envy. Forty girls and 40 boys (5- to 11-year-olds) were presented two jealousy and two envy vignettes and were asked to identify and explain the main characters feelings. Childrens utterances were coded for speech style: elaborative (i.e., embellishing the story), repetitive (i.e., repeating the investigators statements), and evaluative (i.e., questioning, confirming, or negating the investigators statements), as well as for the type of emotion noted. Additionally, children were given measures of emotion comprehension, perspective-taking ability, and verbal intelligence (PPVT). Analyses revealed that children used the term jealous interchangeably for feelings of jealousy and envy during middle childhood. However, the results also supported a distinction between the two emotions in that: 1) children were more likely to describe the main character as sad within jealousy vignettes and angry within envy vignettes; 2) childrens first used the term jealous about a year earlier within the context of jealousy versus envy; and 3) children used more repetition when explaining feelings of envy than jealousy. Whereas PPVT scores and perspective-taking ability predicted increased likelihood of using the term jealousacross both types of vignettes, childrens emotion understanding contributed to the use of the term jealous only for envy vignettes. The results suggest that children first began to talk about jealousy explicitly within contexts involving potential threats to relationships and status; children may perceive jealousy and envy differently but use the same term for both. These findings have implications for discourse strategies for helping children to cope with issues of inter-personal rivalry, complex negative emotions, and peer aggression.

Conference Name

13th International Congress for the Study of Child Language

Conference Location

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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