Date of Award

Fall 12-2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Committee Chair

Dr. Heidi Lyn

Committee Chair Department

Psychology

Committee Member 2

Dr. Jennifer Vonk

Committee Member 3

Dr. Alen Hajnal

Committee Member 3 Department

Psychology

Committee Member 4

Dr. Tammy Barry

Committee Member 4 Department

Psychology

Committee Member 5

Dr. Richard Mohn

Committee Member 5 Department

Educational Studies and Research

Abstract

The present study investigated the role of language complexity in natural and emotion concept formation ability in young children (two- to five-year-olds). Language complexity was measured by selections from the Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Early Childhood Development II, and concept formation was assessed at three levels of abstraction. The natural concepts were presented as two alternative discriminations on a touch-screen computer, as follows: subordinate level (lions versus tigers), basic level (cats versus dogs), and superordinate level (animals versus nonanimals). The following emotion categories were discriminated: subordinate level (anger versus sadness), basic level (positive [happiness and positive surprise] versus negative [anger and sadness], and superordinate level (emotions [happiness, surprise, anger, and sadness] and neutral faces). It was predicted that higher language complexity scores would be related to higher performance on the concept discrimination tasks. Results showed no support for the language as an augmenter hypothesis, providing some support for the assertion that concept formation is an innate ability, not dependent upon language. Additionally, there was no support found for the Circumplex model of emotion recognition with performance on the subordinate and superordinate level of abstraction tasks exceeding that on the basic level discrimination. Interestingly, results indicated that females outperformed males on the emotion concept discriminations, suggesting possible differences in socialization between male and female children and/or an evolutionary predisposition for females to interpret facial expressions more accurately than males from an earlier age.

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