You get what you get and you don't throw a fit! Emotion socialization and child physiology jointly predict early prosocial development

Meghan B. Scrimgeour, Elizabeth L. Davis, Kristin Buss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


Prosocial behavior in early childhood is a precursor to later adaptive social functioning. This investigation leveraged mother-reported, physiological, and observational data to examine children's prosocial development from age 2 to age 4 (N = 125). Maternal emotion socialization (ES) strategies and children's parasympathetic regulation have each been implicated in prosocial behavior, but are rarely examined together or prospectively. Given the transactional nature of parent- child relationships, the effects of maternal ES strategies on children's prosocial behavior are likely moderated by children's individual differences in parasympathetic regulation. As expected, mothers' reported use of problemfocused ES strategies predicted prosocial behavior at age 4. Additionally, children who showed parasympathetic reactivity consistent with more effective emotion regulation during a lab-based disappointment task were rated as more prosocial at age 4. Several interactions with maternal ES strategies emerged. Children's parasympathetic regulation moderated the relations between observed physical comfort or cognitive reframing and prosocial behavior. Observed distraction (either behavioral or cognitive) moderated the link between mothers' reported use of problem-focused ES strategies and children's prosocial behavior. Findings suggest that children's emerging prosocial behavior is shaped by the interactive contributions of interpersonal maternal ES as well as intrapersonal intrinsic physiological regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-116
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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

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