Flexible emotional expressiveness in childhood and adolescence: Longitudinal links with peer relations
Refereed conference paper presented and published in conference proceedings


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AbstractOur outward emotional expressions often differ from our internal feelings. We might need to exaggerate our excitement when receiving unwanted gifts, as well as avoid showing irritation toward friends. Expressive flexibility (EF), or the ability to shift between enhancing and suppressing emotional expressions based on situational demands (Bonanno et al., 2004), is likely a crucial component of social interactions. Although existing research has linked EF with better psychological well-being among adults (e.g. Westphal et al., 2010; Chen et al., 2018), the interpersonal functions of EF have been largely ignored, and little is known about EF among younger individuals. Additionally, while several cross-sectional studies have emphasized potential effects of (un)successful expressive regulation upon children’s peer interactions (e.g. Hubbard, 2001; Perry-Parrish & Zeman, 2011), prior findings that social stress greatly decreases self-control (Baumeister et al., 2005) suggest that peer interactions might also have effects on children’s regulatory behaviors. Within a longitudinal framework, the present study aimed to explore the development of expressive flexibility in late childhood and adolescence, as well as its possible bidirectional links with peer relations.

Participants (N=370; 47.4% female; Mage=12.21 years, SD=1.59) were recruited from two primary schools and two junior high schools in mainland China. They were tested across two waves with a six-month interval. At each wave, participants completed a laboratory task (Bonanno et al., 2004) in which they viewed sequences of positive and negative evocative pictures, and were filmed while engaging in three randomly-ordered tasks: enhancing emotional responses to the pictures, suppressing responses, and behaving “normally”. Participants’ emotional expressiveness in each block was rated by three coders (ICCs>.91), and composited into enhancement and suppression scores with the normal condition serving as a baseline. EF was then calculated as (Enhancement + Suppression) - |Enhancement - Suppression| (Westphal et al., 2010), which indicates children’s flexibility versus rigidity in utilizing these two regulatory strategies. In addition, peer status and friendship quality were tested at both waves through peer nomination and child self-reports, respectively.

A mixed ANOVA indicated that children’s enhancement [F(1, 366)=4.24, p=.040, η2=.011], suppression [F(1, 366)=39.62, p<.001, η2=.098], and overall EF abilities [F(1, 366)=14.06, p<.001, η2=.038] significantly increased from Wave 1 to Wave 2. However, there were no obvious differences between primary and junior high school students for any of the three scores (all ps>.20). Cross-lagged analyses (Figure1), controlled for age and gender, revealed that friendship quality at Wave 1 positively predicted later EF, as well as enhancement and suppression abilities. None of the EF components predicted later friendship quality (all ps>.60). On the other hand, there was a significant reciprocal relationship over time between EF and peer status (Figure2). Separate analyses of enhancement and suppression showed that Wave 1 peer status significantly predicted both EF components at Wave 2. Suppression ability at Wave 1 also significantly predicted later peer status, but enhancement did not. These results not only highlight the role of EF in social interactions, but also suggest that children’s expressive flexibility might be enhanced by experiencing positive peer relationships.
Acceptance Date20/12/2018
All Author(s) ListYingqian WANG, Skyler T. HAWK
Name of ConferenceSociety for Research on Child Development
Start Date of Conference21/03/2019
End Date of Conference23/03/2019
Place of ConferenceBaltimore, MD
Country/Region of ConferenceUnited States of America
Year2019
Month3
LanguagesEnglish-United States

Last updated on 2019-04-09 at 17:24