Although functional links between emotion and action are implied in emotion regulation research, there is limited evidence that specific adaptive actions for coping with a challenge are more probable when certain negative emotions are expressed. The current study examined this question among 3- and 4-year-olds (N = 113; M age = 47.84 months, SD = 6.19). Emotion expressions and actions were observed during 2 challenging tasks: children waited for a gift while the mother worked, and children worked alone to retrieve a prize from a locked box with the wrong key. Angry and happy expressions, compared with sad expressions, were associated with more actions. These actions varied with the nature of the task, reflecting appreciation of situational appropriateness. In addition, when waiting with the mother, happiness was associated with the broadest range of actions, whereas when working alone on the locked box, anger was associated with the broadest range of actions. Results are discussed in terms of the adaptive function of negative emotions and in terms of functional and dimensional models of emotion. Findings have implications for the development of emotion regulation and social-emotional competence.
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