Children's emotion understanding: A meta-analysis of training studies

Manuel Sprung, Hannah M Münch, Paul L Harris, Chad Ebesutani, Stefan G Hofmann

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

69 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: In the course of development, children show increased insight and understanding of emotions-both of their own emotions and those of others. However, little is known about the efficacy of training programs aimed at improving children's understanding of emotion.

OBJECTIVES: To conduct an effect size analysis of trainings aimed at three aspects of emotion understanding: external aspects (i.e., the recognition of emotional expressions, understanding external causes of emotion, understanding the influence of reminders on present emotions); mental aspects (i.e., understanding desire-based emotions, understanding belief-based emotions, understanding hidden emotions); and reflective aspects (i.e., understanding the regulation of an emotion, understanding mixed emotions, understanding moral emotions).

DATA SOURCES: A literature search was conducted using PubMed, PsycInfo, the Cochrane Library, and manual searches.

REVIEW METHODS: The search identified 19 studies or experiments including a total of 749 children with an average age of 86 months (S.D.=30.71) from seven different countries.

RESULTS: Emotion understanding training procedures are effective for improving external (Hedge's g = 0.62), mental (Hedge's g = 0.31), and reflective (Hedge's g = 0.64) aspects of emotion understanding. These effect sizes were robust and generally unrelated to the number and lengths of training sessions, length of the training period, year of publication, and sample type. However, training setting and social setting moderated the effect of emotion understanding training on the understanding of external aspects of emotion. For the length of training session and social setting, we observed significant moderator effects of training on reflective aspects of emotion.

CONCLUSION: Emotion understanding training may be a promising tool for both preventive intervention and the psychotherapeutic process. However, more well-controlled studies are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-65
Number of pages25
JournalDevelopmental Review
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Emotion comprehension
  • Emotion understanding
  • Emotional competency
  • Intervention
  • Meta-analysis
  • Test of Emotion Comprehension
  • Theory of mind
  • Training
  • Training studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental Health


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