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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2017

University of Marburg
University of Marburg
University of Gießen
University of Gießen
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Daniela Bahn, Department of German Studies and Linguistics, University of Marburg, Marburg, Pilgrimstein 16, 35037, Germany. E-mail:


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 that 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 adultlike 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, 9-year-olds and adults are sufficiently similar in their perception of emotion to warrant the use of adult valence and arousal ratings in the analysis of children data.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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