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Commentary: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges to the Study of Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology

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In this commentary, I argue that although emotion regulation and its role in psychopathology has been the focus of considerable psychological research with both children and adults, fundamental questions remain about how these phenomena are linked. I pose four challenges to the study of emotion regulation and psychopathology that have yet to be fully met, either empirically or conceptually. I note that a multi-level developmental approach that places emotion regulation within the context of both the larger self-regulatory system and the social relationships within which regulation occurs may be useful in understanding the emergence and maintenance of early behavioral patterns that evolve into disorders of psychological functioning.
Commentary: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges
to the Study of Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology
Susan D. Calkins
Published online: 14 November 2009
#
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
Abstract In this commentary, I argue that although emotion
regulation and its role in psychopathology has been the focus
of considerable psychological research with both children and
adults, fundamental questions remain about how these
phenomena are linked. I pose four challenges to the study of
emotion regulation and psychopathology that have yet to be
fully met, either empirically or conceptually. I note that a
multi-level developmental approach that places emotion
regulation within the context of both the larger self-
regulatory system and the social relationships within which
regulation occurs may be useful in understanding the
emergence and maintenance of early behavioral patterns that
evolve into disorders of psychological functioning.
Keywords Emotion regulation
.
Assessment
.
Commentary
The construct of emotion regulation and its role in psychoso-
cial adaptation has been examined quite extensively, particu-
larly in the early childhood period. Numerous definitions have
been offered for the construct from within both the child and
adult emotion literatures (Gross and Thompson 2007).
Drawing from theoretical and empirical work in the
developmental (Cole et al. 2004) and clinical fields (Keenan
2000;Sroufe2000), we define emotion regulation as those
behaviors, skills, and strategies, whether conscious or
unconscious, automatic or effortful, that serve to modulate,
inhibit, and enhance emotional experiences and expressions
(Calkins 2004; Calkins and Leerkes, in press). The capacity
to exercise self-control over the expression of emotion, particu-
larly negative emotions, develops over the first years of life
and has particular importance for the unfolding of appropriate
and adaptive social behavior during the preschool and school
years (Eisenberg and Fabes 2006). Failure to acquire adaptive
emotional regulation skills leads to difficulties in areas such
as social competence and school adjustment (Eisenberg and
Fabes 2006; Graziano et al. 2007). Thus, the acquisition of
emotion regulation skills and strategies is considered a critical
achievement of early childhood (Bronson 2000; Sroufe
1996). Furthermore, the lack of adequate development of
control over emotion (as well as, in some instances, over-
control of emotion) may be a precursor to the development
of psychopathology (Calkins and Dedmon 2000;Cicchettiet
al. 1995; Calkins and Fox 2002;Keenan2000).
Despite considerable progress in our understanding that
emotion regulation is influential in the emergence and or
maintenance of psychopathology, many unanswered ques-
tions remain about how this occurs. This knowledge gap
exists, in part, because of a number of conceptual and
empirical challenges to the study of emotional regulation,
most of which are highlighted by the six papers in this
special issue. In this commentary, I highlight four such
challenges and offer tentative suggestions on how these
issues might be confronted.
Emotion regulation is a dynamic process Although most of
the authors in this special issue agree that the process of
reacting to an emotional stimulus is distinct from efforts to
regulate that response, and most measurement strategies
reflect this view (cf. Waters et al. 2010, this issue; Morris et
al. 2009, this issue), the distinction becomes artificial unless
one acknowledges that the two processes are often difficult
The writing of this manuscript was supported in part by a National
Institute of Health Research Scientist Career Development Award
(K02) to Susan D. Calkins (MH 74077)
S. D. Calkins (*)
Department of Human Development and Family Studies,
University of North Carolina at Greensboro,
P.O. Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, USA
e-mail: sdcalkin@uncg.edu
J Psychopathol Behav Assess (2010) 32:9295
DOI 10.1007/s10862-009-9169-6
to disentangle and that they interact dynamically across
time. Static measurement of either is bound to obscure
individual differences in such things as initial level of
reactivity, success or failure of particular strategies over
time, and whether reactivity constrains regulation or vice
versa. In fact, few studies have attempted to either measure
cross-time patterns of both processes (Buss and Goldsmith
1998) or discern patterns of time-linked responding across
children.
The dynamic nature of emotion responding leads to the
possibility that there are several different dimensions of this
responding that may be relevant to specific psychological
disorders. So, it is possible that the relevant aspect of emotion
regulation we should be interested in when trying to
understand particular disorders will vary depending on the
particular features of the disorder. Appraisal may be a process
that is more relevant to anxiety disorders (Carthy et al. 2010,
this issue), for example, so understanding that engaging in
appraisal may lead to a different pattern of emotional
responding that leads to increases versus decreases in anxiety
symptomotology, may lead to a different assessment strategy
than that which is used to assess the relevant emotion
processes inherent in externalizing disorders. Framing the
issue in this way moves us away from focusing on broad
conceptualizations of psychopathology that focus simply on
the regulation of anger or fear for example, to a more
process-oriented approach that asks questions about the
specific dynamics of emotional responding.
Emotion regulation is a multilevel process Implicit, and
sometimes explicit, in each of these special issue papers is
the acknowledgement that emotion regulation is never a
purely emotional process. Emotion regulation draws on
fundamental neurological, physiological, cognitive and
behavioral processes (Cisler et al. 2010, this issue; Sulik
et al. 2010, this issue; Suveg et al. 2010 this issue). We
believe that emotion regulation and other behavioral and
cognitive control processes are linked in fundamental ways
to more basic biological and attentional processes, and have
consequences for later-developing and more sophisticated
social and cognitive skills. And we, like some of our
colleagues (Blair and Razza 2007; Eisenberg et al. 2007;
Rothbart and Sheese 2007) embed these processes within
the larger construct of self-regulation.
So, one way to conceptualize emotion regulation is to
consider it as one component of the larger self-regulatory
system, which we describe it as a system of adaptive
control that may be observed at the level of physiological,
attentional, emotional , behavioral, cognitive, and interper-
sonal or socia l processes (Calkins and Fox 2002; Calkins
and Marcovitch 2009). Control at these various levels
emerges, at least in primitive form, across the prenatal,
infancy, toddler and early childhood periods of develop-
ment. Fundamental to this developmental process is the
maturation of different neural systems and processes that
provide a functional mechanism for the behavioral integra-
tion we ultimately observe as children mature (Lewis and
Todd 2007). Importantly, though, the mastery of earlier
regulatory tasks becomes an important component of later
competencies, and by extension, the level of mastery of
these early skills may constrain the development of later
skills. Thus, understanding the development of specific
control processes, such as emotional regulation or executive
functions becomes integral to understanding the emergence
of other childhood skills and adaptive functioning across
developmental domains (Calkins and Fox 2002).
One task for those interested in the development of
emotion regulation is to understand the way in which
rudimentary control processes become integrated into more
sophisticated functioning. For example, a putatively emo-
tional task of early childhood, the management of frustra-
tion, may be parsed into many smaller challenges for the
child, involving processes that are observable in different
ways and across different levels of functioning. However,
many of these same component processes might also be
involved in the successful negotiation of other childhood
challenges, which may not h ave an obvious emotion
regulation demand, such as a math test, a soccer game, or
a plea to a parent to attend a social event. Because of the
challenge in distingu ishing whether simil ar processes that
are activated in such different contexts are components of
the same or different biological and behavioral systems, in
our view, it may be more useful to adopt an approach that
considers multiple levels of analysis of self-regulation,
rathe r than isolating emotion regulation and executive
functioning from related, or even integrated, control
processes (Calkins 2009; Calkin s and Fox 2002; Posner
and Rothbart 2000). Such an approach has clear implica-
tions for empirical strategies for the study of emotion
regulation, which are often too narrowly construed to reveal
much about the more fundamental processes that may be at
the heart of later emerging psychological dysfunction.
Emotion regulation is a dyadic process One important
assumption of much of the research on emotion regulation
is that parental caregiving practices may suppo rt or
undermine such development and thus contribute to
observed individual differences among young child rens
emotional skills (Thompson 1994; Morris et al. 2007;
Waters et al. 2010, this issue). In infancy, there is an almost
exclusive reliance on parents for the regulation of emotion.
Over time, interactions with parents in emotion-laden
contexts teach children that the use of particular strategies
may be more useful for the reduction of emotional arousal
than other strategies (Sroufe 1996). Once children move
into the school environment, teachers and peers take on the
J Psychopathol Behav Assess (2010) 32:9295 93
role of partners in the emotion regulation process, by
providing input , feedback, and modeling in contexts that
may place multiple demands on the child.
From this contextual standpoint, the mechanism(s)
responsible for growth in emotion regulation and the
acquisition of skills that support adaptive skills, as opposed
to maladaptive behavioral patterns, are to be found in the
interactions betwe en very early child characteristics and the
contexts in which develo pment is occurring: social relation-
ships. The implications for this perspective is that assess-
ment tools that allow us to capture the dyadic nature of
emotion regulation may be more informative than tasks that
yield information about the individual in isolation. Given
that symptoms of many psychological disorders include
aspects of social relationships and relationship functioning,
some emphasis on these relations may yield information
about the dimensions of emotion regulation t hat are
deficient.
Emotion regulation is developmentally defined Although
some children appear to be quite proficient in the use of
basic emotion regul ation skills at a relatively early age, it is
clear that across early development dramatic grow th occurs
in the acquisition and display of emotion regulatio n skills
and abilities. The practice of these newly emerging skills
leads to greater automaticity so that by the child is ready to
enter the arena of formal schooling, greater effort may be
directed toward more demanding academic and social
challenges. Moreover, because of its dependence on the
maturation of prefrontal-limbic connections, the develop-
ment of the broader domain of self-regulatory skills is
relatively protracted (Beauregard et al. 2004), from the
emergence of basic and automatic regulation of biological
processes in early childhood to the more self-conscious and
intentional regulation of behavior and cognition emerging
in middle childhood and adolescence, that require and are
supported by, biological processes (Ochsner and Gross
2004).
The implication of a developmental framework for
conceptualizing emotion regulation is that any empirical
investigation of the phenomena requires an appreciation of
what emotion regulation is, or consists of, at any particular
point in development. That is, it is important to appreciate
that early in development, fundamental biological and
attentional processes are likely to be the best index of
emotion regulation, while among older children, emotion
awareness and appraisal may be more important to the
emotion regulation process (Suveg et al. 2010, this issue).
Understanding where a child is functioning developmental-
ly leads to measurement of the most relevant emotion
regulation processes, which may lead to great er apprecia-
tion of the specific deficits that characterize particular
disorders.
Conclusion: A self-regulation framework for studying
emotion processes Disparate literatures representing the
study of emotion r egulation and other control processes
in early development provide solid preliminary support
for the interdependence of these different sets of skills.
A r easonable next step is to provide a comprehensive
theoretical account of this interdependence. Our work
suggests that the mastery of earlier regulatory tasks
becomes an important component of later competencies,
and by extension, the level of m astery of these early
skills may constrain the development of later skills.
Thus, understanding the development of specific control
processes, such as emotional regulation or executive
functions becomes integral to understanding the emer-
gence of other childhood skills and adaptive functioning
across developmental domains (Calkins and Fox 2002).
We acknowledge that these discrete self-regulatory
processes are likely to be so intertwined that once
integration across levels occurs in support of more complex
skills and behaviors, it is difficult to parse these complex
behavioral responses into separate or independent types of
control. Nevertheless, from a developmental point of view,
it is useful to describe explicit types of control and how
they emerge, particularly in the context of relevant social
relationships. This conceptual and empirical specification
may provide insight into non-normative develo pments and
problems that emerge as a result of deficits in specific
components of sel f-regula tion at particular points in
development.
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... Early childhood is a particularly important time in the development of children's emotion regulation (Calkins, 2010;Sroufe, 1996), as young children shift from being highly dependent upon external regulation from caregivers toward a capacity to exercise increasingly deliberate control over their emotional lives (Grabell et al., 2019;Morelen et al., 2016). As early as infancy, there is evidence for the use of different emotion regulation strategies, including "self-regulatory" strategies such as looking away or selfcomforting, and what have been described as "hetero-regulatory" strategies, such as protesting or smiling, that aim to enlist the support of an adult caregiver (Riva Crugnola et al., 2011). ...
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El presente estudio analizó la comunicación emocional no verbal a partir de los comportamientos gestuales de 21 alumnos del grado de transición de educación infantil de la Institución Educativa Instituto Técnico Gonzalo Suárez Rendón, de carácter público en la ciudad de Tunja – Colombia. La investigación se fundamentó en la metodología observacional (Anguera, 2010; Anguera et al., 2001), e hizo uso de un instrumento no estándar (Anguera-Argilaga et al., 2007). Dentro de los resultados obtenidos se destaca la presencia de un alto porcentaje de gestos ilustradores, seguido de gestos reguladores y un porcentaje menor en los gestos adaptadores. En consecuencia, se ratificó, que la comunicación emocional no verbal acompaña la comunicación verbal y aporta a las relaciones interpersonales y sociales de las niñas y niños.
Thesis
Die Gestaltung einer tragfähigen Schüler*innen-Lehrer*innen-Beziehung ist eine wesentliche Voraussetzung für wirkungsvolles pädagogisches Handeln im Förderschwerpunkt emotionale und soziale Entwicklung (KMK, 2000). Die Grundannahmen der Bindungstheorie sowie die Erkenntnisse aus der empirischen Bindungsforschung ermöglichen es, unterschiedliche Ausprägungen von Verhaltensweisen zu analysieren sowie bindungsrelevante Aspekte bei der Beziehungsgestaltung und zielgerichteten Förderung zu berücksichtigen. International deuten empirische Studien auf Zusammenhänge zwischen unsicheren Bindungsrepräsentationen sowie externalisierenden und internalisierenden Verhaltensproblemen hin (z. B. Fearon, et al., 2010; Groh et al., 2012; Madigan et al., 2016). Des Weiteren liegen internationale Befunde zum Zusammenhang zwischen der Qualität der Schüler*innen-Lehrer*innen-Beziehung und sozialer sowie emotionaler Beeinträchtigungen vor (z. B. Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Roorda et al., 2011; Curby, Brock & Hamre, 2013; Obsuth et al., 2017). Im deutschen Sprachraum und insbesondere im sonderpädagogischen Handlungsfeld des Förderschwerpunktes der emotionalen und sozialen Entwicklung bleibt eine empirische Analyse dieser Zusammenhänge bislang weitestgehend aus. Übergeordnetes Ziel dieser Forschungsarbeit ist es, auf Basis bindungstheoretisch fundierter und empirischer Erkenntnisse einen wissenschaftlichen Beitrag zum Wissensstand des Konstrukts der Schüler*innen-Lehrer*innen-Beziehung im Förderschwerpunkt der emotionalen und soziale Entwicklung zu leisten. Datenbasis für die eigene empirische Analyse sind Fragebogenerhebungen mit N = 141 Schüler*innen mit diagnostiziertem Förderbedarf in der emotionalen und sozialen Entwicklung (im Alter von 7 bis 15 Jahren) sowie deren Eltern bzw. Sorgeberechtigten und Lehrkräften. Es werden Zusammenhänge zwischen unsicheren Bindungsrepräsentationen, Emotionsregulationsstrategien und externalisierenden sowie internalisierenden Verhaltensproblemen untersucht. Neben der Analyse einzelner Zusammenhänge werden ebenfalls Unterschiede zwischen unsicheren Bindungsrepräsentationen und Verhaltensproblemen bei Schüler*innen an Regelschulen und Schüler*innen von Förderschulen mit dem Schwerpunkt in der emotionalen und sozialen Entwicklung untersucht. Darüber hinaus werden mittels Pfadanalyse direkte und indirekte Effekte von emotionaler Unterstützung auf Emotionsregulationsstrategien sowie Verhaltensprobleme überprüft. Dazu wurden in N = 26 Klassen an Förderschulen mit dem Förderschwerpunkt der emotionalen und sozialen Entwicklung standardisierte Beobachtungen im Unterricht zur Erfassung emotionaler Unterstützung von Lehrkräften durchgeführt. Da für den deutschen Sprachraum wenig standardisierte Verfahren vorliegen, die Bindungsrepräsentationen und Beziehungsdimensionen im schulischen Handlungsfeld systematisch erfassen, werden das Verfahren ECR-RC und das CLASS-S adaptiert und psychometrisch überprüft. Die Ergebnisse der Studie legen Zusammenhänge zwischen bindungsbezogener Angst und einzelnen Komponenten aggressiven Verhaltens nahe. Mediationsanalysen verdeutlichen, dass der Zusammenhang zwischen bindungsbezogener Angst und aggressivem Verhalten über internal-dysfunktionale Emotionsregulationsstrategien vermittelt wird. Schüler*innen der Förderschulstichprobe zeigen höhere Ausprägungen bei den unsicheren Bindungsrepräsentationen als Schüler*innen der Regelschulstichprobe. Darüber hinaus bestehen mehr und stärkere Zusammenhänge zwischen den unsicheren Bindungsrepräsentationen und externalisierenden und internalisierenden Verhaltensproblemen bei Schüler*innen der Förderschule mit dem Schwerpunkt der emotionalen und sozialen Entwicklung. Die Befunde der Pfadanalysen zeigen einen direkten negativen Zusammenhang zwischen emotionaler Unterstützung und externalisierenden Verhaltensproblemen auf. Des Weiteren lassen sich indirekte Effekte von emotionaler Unterrichtsunterstützung über external-funktionale Emotionsregulationsstrategien auf externalisierende Verhaltensprobleme feststellen. Die Ergebnisse deuten auf die Relevanz der Dimensionen von Bindungsrepräsentationen sowie emotionaler Unterrichtsunterstützung im schulischen Kontext für den Umgang mit emotionalen und sozialen Beeinträchtigungen hin. Die Ergebnisse liefern darüber hinaus erstmals für den deutschen Sprachraum und insbesondere für den sonderpädagogischen Bildungsbereich empirische Aussagen zur psychometrischen Güte des ECR-RC sowie des CLASS-S. Sie unterstreichen die Nutzbarkeit der Verfahren für die Forschung und Diagnostik im deutschen Schulkontext. Die empirischen Befunde indizieren darüber hinaus, dass Emotionsregulation in Präventions- und Interventionsansätzen wesentlich berücksichtigt werden sollte. Zukünftige Untersuchungen sollten sowohl auf längsschnittliche Untersuchungen über den Entwicklungsverlauf der Kinder und Jugendlichen als auch auf eine verstärkte Grundlagenforschung zu bindungs- und beziehungsrelevanten Dimensionen in sonderpädagogischen Handlungsfeldern sowie auf eine gezielte Überprüfung von Erhebungsinstrumenten abzielen.
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Children from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds are at particularly heightened risk for developing later externalizing problems. A large body of research has suggested an important role for self‐regulation in this developmental linkage. Self‐regulation has been conceptualized as a mediator as well as a moderator of these connections. Using data from the Child Development Project (CDP, N = 585), we probe these contrasting (mediating/moderating) conceptualizations, using both Frequentist and Bayesian statistical approaches, in the linkage between early SES and later externalizing problems in a multi‐decade longitudinal study. Connecting early socioeconomic status, physiology (i.e., heart rate reactivity) and inhibitory control (a Stroop task) in adolescence, and externalizing symptomatology in early adulthood, we found the relation between SES and externalizing problems was moderated by multiple facets of self‐regulation. Participants from lower early SES backgrounds, who also had high heart rate reactivity and lower inhibitory control, had elevated levels of externalizing problems in adulthood relative to those with low heart rate reactivity and better inhibitory control. Such patterns persisted after controlling for externalizing problems earlier in life. The present results may aid in understanding the combinations of factors that contribute to the development of externalizing psychopathology in economically marginalized youth. Research Highlights Childhood socioeconomic status was related to externalizing symptoms 20 years later Adolescent self‐regulation did not mediate links between SES and externalizing Youth from low SES households with low inhibitory control and high physiological reactivity showed greater externalizing issues in adulthood This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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In the past, researchers have treated the development of the emotions and the task of emotional regulation as two separate topics, the former emphasizing 'normative' questions and the latter emphasizing 'individual' differences. Until now, understanding the first topic has never been seen as relevant for the second. This is the area pioneered by Emotional Development. This book presents the early phases of emotional life from a developmental perspective. It argues that emotional generation hinges on the developing ability to express arousal or 'tension' in accordance with one's context. It reveals the common core processes underlying the emergence of specific emotions and the capacity for emotional regulation. It explains the timing of emotional emergence, why emotions function as they do, and also explores individual styles of emotional regulation. Close ties between emotional development, cognitive, social and CNS development are discussed, too.
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Of long-standing interest to the field of developmental psychology has been the significance of early emotional and cognitive skills for later socioemotional functioning, academic achievement, and mental health. Implicit in such interest is the notion that early skills, abilities, and tendencies may forecast a child's success or failure in the larger worlds of school and peers. In this chapter we consider the early emergence of two hallmarks of emotional and cognitive development, emotion regulation and executive functioning, each of which appears to be fundamental to later adaptive behavior. Given the functional characterization of both of these processes as control mechanisms, we examine the degree to which their emergence is a consequence of shared foundational biological and psychological mechanisms, and we suggest a framework for integrating them that may be informative of the developmental processes through which they emerge. Within this framework we examine evidence for differential growth in these domains and suggest possible mechanisms through which these processes influence one another mutually and transactionally over the course of early development. Finally, we pose unresolved questions and offer directions for future research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)