Date of Completion


Embargo Period


Major Advisor

James A. Green

Associate Advisor

Rhiannon Smith

Associate Advisor

Janet Barnes-Farrell

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


This research explored preschoolers’ understanding of emotion by examining children’s own facial expressions. Because past studies have investigated emotion understanding using language-heavy tasks, the conclusions that have been drawn about the process of emotion categorization may be partly due to task demands and not related directly to the development of emotion understanding. In this study, the relations among objective measures of prototypical emotion expression, emotion categorization, and other forms of emotion understanding were explored. Children’s ability to produce prototypical facial expressions when given emotion labels and read emotional stories was measured. In addition, children were asked to provide verbal labels for the emotions presumed present in emotional stories and photographs. Six emotions were examined including happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Results show that when exploring emotion understanding using tasks that do not require verbal labeling, emotion categorization appears to follow a different trajectory. Findings are discussed with respect to prototypicality of faces and its relation to other key factors involved in emotion understanding.