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On-line version ISSN 1668-7027


VIVAS, Jorge R et al. The meaning of concepts dealing with basic emotions in children and adults. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2022, vol.39, n.3, pp.185-203.  Epub June 28, 2022. ISSN 1668-7027.

Although basic emotions are considered universal, their representation, associations and meaning vary among cultures and social groups. Within the framework of the socio-constructivist theory, where the meanings develop in the social context, this paper analyzes and compares the semantic representations of six basic emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Surprise and Disgust), evoked by 78 children between 9 and 11 years old and 78 adults between 20 and 40 years old. Participants had to list a series of properties/features for each concept in a Property Listing Task (PLT). With the lists produced by the participants, their frequencies and other statistical properties were calculated, and the matrix of distances between concepts was obtained from the vectors defined by each of them. Thus, using the six aforementioned emotions as stimuli, the semantic representation associated with each emotion was elaborated for each age range. Once these were obtained, an analysis was carried out to evaluate the intrinsic quality and the differences in: (1) quantity and types of features produced; (2) structure of each of the semantic networks obtained, both by means of quadratic assignment procedure (QAP) and hierarchical clustering algorithms; (3) network density (that describes the portion of the potential connections in a network that are actual connections) and entropy level (that describe the level of randomness and the amount of information encoded in a network); (4) comparative use of definition by negation; (5) qualitative analysis of the features associated with each emotional concept. To carry out the bulk of these activities and analysis, we used the tools and procedures provided by Social Network Analysis (SNA). As a result: (1) regarding the number of features, adults produced significantly more associations. A chi-square analysis found significant differences between groups in the type of features evoked, with a primacy of taxonomic for adults and introspective for children; (2) the quadratic assignment procedure found a significant level of association of .59 between the two age groups. The groupings performed at the lowest level of demand for linkage between cluster members distinguish positive emotions from negative ones; higher levels of demand begin to disaggregate the groupings: first fear and sadness are separated, then anger, then the dyad constituted by both versions of disgust. The emotion of greater commonality between children and adults is joy; (3) the density of the total network is higher in children than in adults, and the concepts of joy, disgust and sadness present a lower entropy in children than in adults; (4) Children produce considerably more definitions by the negative than adults; (5) the most similar emotion between both groups is joy and the most dissimilar is disgust. In children, disgust responds to gustatory stimuli, in adults it is used with social metaphorical value. The results obtained show the semantic representation of basic emotions in children and adults, finding both continuities (e. g. joy) and divergences (e. g. disgust) associated with the context and life experience. In both age groups, positive and negative emotions are found to be separated, which is consistent with theories on the importance of hedonic valence in the understanding of emotions. There are also differences in categorization, either more thematically or taxonomically oriented.

Keywords : semantic; emotions; children; adults; social network analysis.

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