Sex Roles

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Exploring Gender Differences in the Use of Internal State Language in Mother-Adolescent Reminiscing

  • Alice GraneistEmail author
  • Tilmann Habermas
Original Article


The use of internal state language (ISL) is socialized in family conversations. In childhood, girls tend to use more emotion words than boys do, and mothers tend to use more emotion words with daughters than with sons. However, research in adolescence has been sparse suggesting that ISL is used equally across both genders. The present cross-sectional study thus examined gender patterns in German adolescents’ and their mothers’ emotion narratives. A total of 60 mother-adolescent dyads (ages 12, 15 and 18 years; each age group with ten male and ten female adolescents) narrated three autobiographical emotional events (sad, angry, happy), individually and jointly. Male and female adolescents did not differ in their use of emotion words, anger and sadness terms or in their use of mental verbs. Only in individual narratives, female adolescents used more global evaluations. Independent of gender, adolescents used emotion words less often in co-narrations with their mothers than in individual narratives. Mothers used mental verbs more often with sons than with daughters but did not differ in their use of emotion words, anger, and sadness terms or global evaluations. The results question existing gender stereotypes and suggest that, in adolescence, both genders equally express subjective perspectives in narratives.


Internal state language Adolescence Mother-child reminiscing Co-narration Gender 



We thank all adolescents and their mothers for their participation. Thanks also go to Sophia Bukowski, Philipp Nowak, and Erik Herrmann for sharing data collection with the first author. We also thank Sophia Bukowski and Hannah Jöckel for coding internal state language.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare to have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The study was approved by the central IRB of the German Psychological Society (DGPs), number TH 032014_rev from June 11, 2014.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGoethe University Frankfurt am MainFrankfurt am MainGermany

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