Date of Degree

2-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Committee Members

Jennifer Mangels

Joel Erblich

Mariann Weierich

Subject Categories

Biological Psychology | Cognitive Neuroscience | Developmental Neuroscience | Developmental Psychology

Keywords

emotion regulation, child development, the late positive potential, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, social context

Abstract

Emotion regulation (ER) is a key predictor of positive adjustment throughout the lifespan. Despite decades of research on discrete ER strategy use, ER may be more appropriately measured in terms of the breadth of emotional range, or the degree to which one can flexibly modulate emotional responses. Yet little is known about ER flexibility in childhood. Also, given the crucial role of caregiver support in children’s emotional lives, ER may be most accurately measured in developmentally appropriate and ecologically valid social contexts. Further, few developmental studies have capitalized on the growing evidence base surrounding biological signatures of ER. This study harnessed two target biological signatures that highlight emotional range as an aspect of ER flexibility: the late positive potential (LPP), an index of neurocognitive flexibility, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an index of physiological flexibility. These metrics were examined as predictors of child behavioral ER and emotional adjustment, and evaluated in terms of their sensitivity to social context. Eighty-six (44 female; Mage = 6.94, SD = 1.13) 5-to-8-year-olds completed a Directed Reappraisal Task (DRT) in which unpleasant pictures were paired with either reappraisal or negative interpretations while EEG and ECG were recorded. Social context was systematically manipulated such that children either completed the task alone, with parent present but not interacting, or with parent scaffolding child ER. ECG was recorded while dyads completed two emotionally challenging behavioral tasks. Neurocognitive flexibility indexed by the LPP was bolstered by experimentally-manipulated parent presence or scaffolding of child ER during the DRT, and also by spontaneous patterns of behavioral parent scaffolding. In contrast, while RSA was not sensitive to social context, greater physiological flexibility indexed by RSA suppression predicted greater parent-reported ER, and fewer symptoms of psychopathology. Taken together, results highlight the importance of bio-behavioral multimethod approaches to examine biological signatures of ER in children in terms of context-sensitivity and flexibility.

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