Perception of valence and arousal in German emotion terms – A comparison between 9-year-old children and adults

Two major semantic features of emotion concepts have been shown to impact performance in
emotion perception tasks: valence and arousal. To design psycholinguistic experiments with
emotion terms as stimuli, norms are required which indicate valence and arousal values for
individual words. Although such norms are usually obtained from ratings of adults, they are
often also used in developmental studies. This procedure raises the question of whether
children and adults perceive emotional valence and arousal of words in the same way, and
consequently, whether adults’ ratings are adequate when constructing stimulus sets for
children. The present study obtained valence and arousal ratings for 48 German emotion
terms from three different groups: 9-year-old children and adults tested in a controlled
laboratory setting, and adults tested via online survey. Results demonstrate high correlations
for valence and arousal across settings. The comparison between children and adults also
revealed high correlations, suggesting that children at the age of 9 already display adult-like
behavior in their evaluation of emotion terms. A small difference was found for absolute
rating values of arousal, with children rating words less arousing than adults. Overall, using
adults’ norms in developmental studies on word processing seems to be a valid procedure.