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"Emotional Mash-Up" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Adolescents don't distinguish between negative emotions as clearly as younger children and adults in their twenties, according to new findings. The study sheds light on how experiences of emotion vary at different ages and why adolescence may be a particularly vulnerable period in emotional development.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Mixed feelings.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Ever fantasize about being 16 again? Great times for some. But for others, adolescence is an emotional rollercoaster (Sound effect: rollercoaster sounds) (Sound effect: rollercoaster, storm winds, waves crashing) inside a hurricane inundated by a tsunami of conflicting, confusing, confounding negative thoughts and feelings. New findings from Harvard shed light on how experiences of emotion vary at different ages, and why adolescence may be an especially vulnerable period in emotional development.

Here's what the team found in a study of 143 people ages 5 through 25.

Young children can differentiate -- or tell apart -- negative emotions very intuitively. Kiddos emotions don't overlap. "I'm sad, I'm angry, I'm scared." They're more likely to experience emotions one at a time.

Adults over 20 tended to report undergoing many emotions at one time and being able to distinguish each one individually.

Adolescents, though, seemed more likely to: A. Experience overlapping emotions. And, B. Not be able to tell them apart. Making adolescence a period of murkiness in the emotions they're feeling.

Knowing this, if you're trying to figure out a rebellious teen -- remember, they're trying to make sense of it too.

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