Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 136–150 | Cite as

A Variable-Centered and Person-Centered Evaluation of Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance: Links to Emotional and Behavioral Concerns

  • Kathryn Van EckEmail author
  • Pete Warren
  • Kate Flory
Empirical Research


Distress tolerance and emotion regulation deficits are associated with many emotional and behavioral concerns and may be important deficit areas for college students especially during the transition to college. However, little is known about how distress tolerance and emotion regulation relate to each other or what typical profiles of these deficit areas might be. We took a variable-centered (i.e., exploratory factor analysis) and a person-centered approach (i.e., latent profile analysis) to identify the overlap and distinctiveness of distress tolerance and emotion regulation deficits and then evaluated how the profiles related to several emotional and behavioral concerns. Participants were undergraduates (N = 627; age M = 20.23, SD = 1.40; 60 % female; 47 % European-American) who completed an online assessment. The exploratory factor analysis of distress tolerance and emotion regulation subscales demonstrated three factors with one factor corresponding to distress tolerance and two factors defined by emotion regulation. Subscales demonstrated significant multidimensionality across the factors. The latent profile analysis with distress tolerance and emotion regulation subscales produced three profiles corresponding to “Functional”, “At Risk”, and “Challenged” levels of distress tolerance and emotion regulation abilities. Internalizing symptoms (i.e., depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and suicidal ideation) had significantly higher symptom severity in the “At Risk”, and “Challenged” profiles than in the “Functional” profile. ADHD symptoms and hostility showed a similar pattern. Conduct problems and substance use were much less related to the deficit profiles. Implications for the etiology of mental health, for prevention and treatment of college students are discussed.


Distress tolerance Emotion regulation Substance use Internalizing symptoms Externalizing symptoms Latent profile analyses Exploratory factor analysis College students 


Authors’ Contributions

KVE conceived of the study design, coordination, statistical analyses, interpretation, or data, drafted manuscript. PW drafted the introduction of the manuscript. KF participated in the design, supervised data collection, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This work did not provide funding from any source; thus, the authors have no funding sources to declare.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants who provided data in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mental HealthJohns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Division of PediatricsJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.William Jennings Bryan Dorn Department of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterMental Health Service LineColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

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