Biological signatures of emotion regulation flexibility in children: Parenting context and links with child adjustment

Sarah Myruski, Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Emotion regulation (ER) is a key facet of positive adjustment throughout the lifespan. Recent theoretical and empirical innovations suggest that current methods for assessing ER are limited, because they measure discrete strategy use instead of ER flexibility and are insensitive to ecologically valid social contexts that influence ER. This is particularly important for studying the impact of parenting on ER development during childhood. The current study (N = 93; 47 females; Mage = 6.98, SD = 1.12) examined child ER flexibility during a directed reappraisal task (DRT) with two parenting contexts: passive parent presence or active scaffolding. Two biological signatures of ER flexibility were measured: respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an index of physiological flexibility; and the late positive potential (LPP), an index of neurocognitive flexibility. Emotion regulation behavior was observed during a frustrating wait, and parents reported on child ER and adjustment. Greater ER flexibility indexed via the LPP and RSA both predicted observed ER during the frustrating wait, but only RSA predicted parent-reported trait ER and fewer adjustment problems. Emotion regulation flexibility indexed by the LPP was bolstered by parent presence and scaffolding of child ER during the DRT, but RSA measures were not sensitive to parenting context. Taken together, the results provide converging evidence for the conceptualization of ER in terms of physiological and neurocognitive flexibility in childhood. Furthermore, among school-aged children, while physiological flexibility broadly predicted parent-reported child adjustment, neurocognitive flexibility may be context-sensitive and predictive of concurrent observed ER.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-821
Number of pages17
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Volume21
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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