PUT ON YOUR GAME FACE! INHIBITORY AND SOCIOEMOTIONAL CORRELATES OF EMOTION REGULATION IN EARLY AND MIDDLE CHILDHOOD
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Emotion regulation can be defined as the ability to alter expressive displays of emotion. Children’s developing capacity to regulate emotions may depend on individual characteristics and pertinent inhibitory and socioemotional skills. The current thesis examined children’s emotion regulatory abilities using pre-existing and novel measures, and related these abilities with age, sex, inhibitory control, theory of mind, and emotion and display rule knowledge. Study 1 examined the relations between each of these variables and 5- to 7-year-olds’ regulation of emotion in a disappointing gift paradigm. Children’s understanding of others’ emotions and emotion display rules, and their inhibitory control skills, emerged as significant correlates of emotion regulation and predicted children’s responses to the disappointing gift after controlling for other relevant variables. Study 2 related 5- to 10-year-olds’ regulation of negative emotions in the disappointing gift paradigm with regulation of positive emotions in a novel staged accident task, and compared socioemotional and cognitive correlates of positive and negative emotion regulation. Results revealed a significant negative correlation between regulation of negative and positive emotions, and these correlated differently with theory of mind and inhibitory control. In Study 3, a single controlled procedure for studying regulation of positive and negative emotions was created in which children won a good or bad gift and watched the experimenter win a good or bad gift, in different contexts (i.e., opening the gift before or after the experimenter opened one of greater or lesser value). Four- to 10-year-olds succeeded in regulating positive and negative emotions in some contexts, but not others. Significant associations with emotion regulation were observed for age, sex, and display rule knowledge. Findings from the three studies suggest that children struggle to regulate emotions and that emotion regulation may not be a single unified skill, but one that varies systematically with the valence of the elicited emotion. Moreover, emotion regulation seemingly requires (1) knowledge of context-appropriate emotions as well as (2) inhibitory abilities to use that knowledge and effectively control emotions.