Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


School-Age Childrens Talk about Jealousy and Envy


Psychology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Social and Behavioral Sciences


Research suggests that language development plays a critical role in childrens socio-cognitive understanding, as talking with others provides access to their emotional experiences and differing perspectives on situations (Astington & Baird, 2005). While middle childhood marks a burgeoning awareness of others mental states (de Rosnay & Hughes, 2006), most research on childrens emotion talk has focused on preschool childrens talk about basic emotions (e.g., sad, angry) as opposed to older childrens talk about complex emotions that require self-awareness (e.g., jealousy, envy). The present study used vignettes followed by probe questions to elicit talk about personal experiences involving relationship rivalry versus situations involving the child coveting another persons possessions or skills (i.e., envy). We examined the extent to which school-age children, like adults, would use the term jealous in reference to each type of situation (Smith et al., 1988), and the extent to which their usage of the term and their explanations of emotions were related to vocabulary size (PPVT), non-verbal intelligence (TONI), social perspective taking skills (Aldrich, 2014; Selman & Byrne, 1974), and a standardized measure of emotion comprehension (TEC, Pons & Harris, 2000). Eighty 5-to-11-year-olds (40 girls, 40 boys) were presented two relationship rivalry (sibling, friendship) and two envy (possession, attribute) vignettes and were asked to identify and explain the main characters feelings as well as relate information about their own feelings in these situations (i.e., using the probe Have you ever felt like [character name]? Can you tell me about it?). Childrens responses to the probe questions were coded for emotion type (e.g., sad, jealous) and explanations of the characters/their own feelings (i.e., inclusion of new story details versus repeating story elements as told by the investigator). Although children used the term jealous to describe instances of both relationship rivalry and coveting anothers possessions and attributes, their speech varied across the two types of situations. Children first began to use the term jealous in their explanations of situations involving potential threats to relationships and status about a year earlier than in their explanations of situations involving envy. Childrens responses to probe questions about relationship rivalry included more frequent mention of sadness, whereas their responses to envy included more frequent mention of anger. Overall the children were more elaborative when explaining feelings of relationship rivalry versus wanting another persons possessions or attributes, by providing more new details about why they (or the character) felt that way. Simultaneous regression analyses showed effects of vocabulary size, but not age or non-verbal intelligence, on childrens use of the term jealous across both types of vignettes. TEC scores were also predictive of use of the term jealous in response to the envy vignettes. Taken together, the study demonstrates the efficacy of vignettes for eliciting talk about complex emotions in children as young as five years of age, and suggests discourse strategies for helping children cope with issues of interpersonal rivalry, envy, and other powerful negative experiences.

Conference Name

2015 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development

Conference Location

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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