Developmental Changes in Anger Expression and Attention Focus: Learning to Wait

Pamela M. Cole, Patricia Z. Tan, Sarah E. Hall, Yiyun Zhang, Keith A. Crnic, Clancy B. Blair, Runze Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Being able to wait is an essential part of self-regulation. In the present study, the authors examined the developmental course of changes in the latency to and duration of target-waiting behaviors by following 65 boys and 55 girls from rural and semirural economically strained homes from ages 18 months to 48 months. Age-related changes in latency to and duration of children's anger expressions and attention focus (e.g., self-initiated distraction) during an 8-min wait for a gift were found. On average, at 18 and 24 months of age, children were quick to react angrily and slower to shift attention away from the desired object than they were at later ages. Over time, children were quicker to distract themselves. By 36 months, distractions occurred before children expressed anger, and anger expressions were briefer. At 48 months, children typically made a quick bid to their mothers about having to wait before distracting themselves; on average, they did not appear angry until the latter half of the wait. Unexpectedly, children bid to their mothers as much at age 48 months as they had at 18 months; however, bids became less angry as children got older. Developmental changes in distraction and bidding predicted age-related changes in the latency to anger. Findings are discussed in terms of the neurocognitive control of attention around age 30 months, the limitations of children's self-regulatory efforts at age 48 months, and the importance of fostering children's ability to forestall, as well as modulate, anger.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1078-1089
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Emotion regulation
  • Preschoolers
  • Self-regulation
  • Toddlers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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