When Do Emotions Develop?

Emotional development is a very important part of growing up, so when does it begin? How does it happen?

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We know that emotions must start somewhere in the brain, so is emotional maturity related to brain maturity? According to neuroscience, the brain reaches full maturity around 25 years old, though this varies from person to person. The last part of the brain to reach maturity is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area associated with executive functions, including emotions. Ideally, by 25 we understand our place and ourselves, which would explain why teenage emotions seem to be so much more...unpredictable...than an adult's. Emotional development comes in two groups, basic emotion and higher emotion. Defined by anthropologist Paul Eckman in the 1970, the basics are inborn, universal: joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Babies, adults, everyone experiences these emotions. Higher emotions like jealousy, envy, guilt, shame, pride and embarrassment come later, once the brain learns self-awareness and self-consciousness; but the problem is, emotions aren't easy to quantify. Just because we don't understand them doesn't mean we don't experience them.

A new study done by Brigham Young looked at children six and under competing in a block-building contest: The winners and losers were rigged, so they could test their emotional responses. Losers shrugged it off and moved on right away, but winners stood, hands on their hips, chest out, and had "obvious swagger" The brain of a two year old is not self-aware, or self-conscious, so they shouldn't understand pride, but there the experiment clearly showed that they were. When asked about their feelings later, younger kids who were shown pictures of people expressing pride would identify it in others if they were four or older; but not in themselves. Five-year-olds could see it in themselves and others; indicating we develop our emotions as we age.

Learn More:

At What Age Is The Brain Fully Developed? (Mentalhealthdaily.com)
"It is widely debated as to which age the brain is considered 'fully mature' or developed."

Kid swagger: How children react to winning and losing (Eurekalert.org)
"A group of preschoolers were given one shot to beat the world's fastest builder of block towers."

Anger Fuels Better Decisions (Live Science)
"The next time you are plagued with indecision and need a clear way out, it might help to get angry, according to a surprising new study."