Emotion knowledge is a multi-faceted construct. In early childhood, core components include recognizing prototypic emotion expressions and understanding behavioral and situational causes and consequences of emotions. Emotion knowledge becomes more complex and differentiated across middle childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. For example, school-age children begin to distinguish between people's emotion expressions and their internal emotion feelings, and they become more proficient at recognizing mixed emotion expressions.
Several factors play a role in the development of emotion knowledge. Theory of mind, which includes the understanding of how one's own and others' beliefs, emotions, and intentions may differ, is associated with the development of young children's emotion knowledge. Specific facets of temperament such as negative emotional intensity can interfere with the development of emotion knowledge. The development of emotion knowledge is also closely connected to other aspects of children's emotional competence, including their emotion regulation, and it is shaped by social interactions with caregivers and peers.
Emotion knowledge contributes to several aspects of children's competence at school. For example, emotion knowledge predicts several indicators of social competence, including positive relationships with peers. On the other hand, children who struggle with emotion knowledge may experience behavioral difficulties, including aggression and internalizing problems. Emotion knowledge also relates to successful academic adaptation to school and scholastic success.
Empirical evidence supports the efficacy of prevention intervention programs to enhance emotion knowledge and related competencies. Such intervention programs include the Emotions Course, which is a theory-driven program that has been evaluated within preschool settings that serve children from low-income families. In addition, several social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) and the Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating (RULER) program, teach children how to recognize emotion expressions within a broader package of lessons that enhance children's social-emotional skills. In summary, emotion knowledge plays an important role in children's competence at school, and there are evidence-based programs that can help children learn to recognize and understand emotions within the school context.