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|Title:||Emotion elicitation as a window on children’s emotion regulation, empathy, and social adaptation|
School of Psychology
University of Sydney
|Abstract:||The manner in which children manage their emotional arousal in response to challenging events is crucial for social adaptation and peer relationships (Eisenberg, Spinard, & Eggum, 2010; Saarni, 1999). However, while there is a large literature examining the relation between children’s emotion regulation and their social competencies, there are several conceptual and methodological challenges facing the emotion regulation construct (Cole, Martin, & Dennis, 2004; Thompson, 1994). The studies presented in this thesis use structured emotion elicitation paradigms (emotionally challenging video vignettes) in order to interpret the meaning of children’s behavioural responses to specific situational contexts, within the framework of emotion regulation. In addition, concurrent and longitudinal relations between young children’s emotion regulation and their social adaptation are examined at the time of children’s school entry. Finally, the close conceptual relation between emotion regulation, empathy, and emotion understanding is empirically examined, with an emphasis on the relation between these different measures of children’s emotional competence and their independent and combined impact on social adaptation. Across two separate studies, it was found that children’s behavioural responses were systematically related to their eliciting contexts. In particular, the degree to which children disengaged from emotionally challenging content, and their expressions of worry-concern and empathic sadness, were highly contextually and temporally bound, showing a close correspondence with specific events in the emotion elicitation paradigms. However, despite the close association between children’s behavioural responses and their eliciting contexts, such responses showed impressive individual stability across contexts, as well as across time. Furthermore, there was robust independence across different behavioural domains. The only exception to this pattern was between disengagement and children’s emotional expressions; whereas children expressing higher levels of worry-concern were also observed to express higher levels of disengagement, children expressing empathic sadness expressed lower levels of disengagement. This finding broadly supports the proposal of Eisenberg and Fabes (1992) that well regulated children (i.e., low levels of disengagement) are more likely to be empathic (i.e., express empathic sadness). Examination of relations between children’s behavioural responding and their social adaptation showed that disengagement and affective responding were systematically related to their social competence: children who disengaged from the challenging vignettes most, and expressed worry-concern as opposed to empathic sadness, were more likely to be rated by their teachers as less socially mature and as having higher levels of problem behaviours. Furthermore, these same behaviours also predicted lower levels of peer acceptance. Longitudinally, only children’s disengagement was systematically related to social adaptation. In fact, disengagement, which involves attentional modulation, emerged as a robust, stable and reliable predictor of children’s social competence. Finally, emotion regulation behaviours, empathy, and emotion understanding were simultaneously examined and found to be relatively distinct components of children’s emotion competence. Furthermore, each component of emotional competence made independent contributions to concurrent and, to a lesser extent, longitudinal social competence as rated by both teachers and peers. However, only children’s emotion regulation and affective expressions were related to teacher-rated problem behaviours at both time-points. Overall, the current thesis provides a framework within which to study young school-aged children’s behavioural responses to challenging events, and has demonstrated that these responses make a unique contribution to children’s social adaptation both in Kindergarten and one year later.|
|Rights and Permissions:||The author retains copyright of this thesis.|
|Type of Work:||PhD Doctorate|
|Appears in Collections:||Sydney Digital Theses (Open Access)|
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