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Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Adolescents with Elevated Externalizing Symptoms Show Heightened Emotion Reactivity to Daily Stress: An Experience Sampling Study

Abstract

Numerous theories assert that youth with externalizing symptomatology experience intensified emotion reactivity to stressful events; yet scant empirical research has assessed this notion. Using in-vivo data collected via experience sampling methodology, we assessed whether externalizing symptoms conditioned adolescents’ emotion reactivity to daily stressors (i.e. change in emotion pre-post stressor) among 206 socioeconomically disadvantaged adolescents. We also assessed whether higher externalizing symptomology was associated with experiencing more stressors overall, and whether adolescents’ emotional upheavals resulted in experiencing a subsequent stressor. Hierarchical linear models showed that adolescents higher in externalizing symptoms experienced stronger emotion reactivity in sadness, anger, jealously, loneliness, and (dips in) excitement. Externalizing symptomatology was not associated with more stressful events, but a stress-preventative effect was found for recent upheavals in jealousy among youth low in externalizing. Findings pinpoint intense emotion reactivity to daily stress as a risk factor for youth with externalizing symptoms living in socioeconomic disadvantage.

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Notes

  1. We initially included frequency of major life stressors (sum of 11 items from the Adolescent Perceived Event Scale; Compas [11]) as a level 2-covariate. More specifically, major life stressors did not account for significant variance in reactivity for any emotion (sad b = .020, p = .07; angry b = − .06, p = .21; jealousy b = − .012, p = .50; lonely b = .063, p = .15; worried b = − .016, p = .67; excitement b = − .037, p = .22; happy b = − .027, p = .44). Nor did major life stress account for significant variability in proportion of daily stressors within our sample (b = 2.0 (1.6), p > .05). For model parsimony, we thus omit major stressors from these models.

  2. An HLM format was not required as each individual had only one overall frequency value. Thus there were no within-person differences to be modeled.

  3. We used bar graphs to show changes in emotion based on the interaction of (dichotomous) Stressor x (continuous) Externalizing. We did so in order to facilitate interpretation of the figures in terms of change in emotion as a function of stressor occurrence or non-occurrence.

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Acknowledgements

Support for this project was provided by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, an Australian-based international research centre that unites young people with researchers, practitioners, innovators and policy-makers from over 70 partner organisations. Together we explore the role of technology in young people’s lives, and how it can be used to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 12–25. The Young and Well CRC is established under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program. Portions of this research were further supported by the Australian Government as a Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE) Project Grant (2012–2016) administered by Murdoch University entitled Murdoch’s Aspirations and Pathways for University (MAP4U) Project. Contributions to this research were also funded by a grant from the Australian Institute of Criminology through the Criminology Research Grants Program to Kathryn Modecki, Bonnie Barber, and Wayne Osgood. The views expressed are the responsibility of the second author and are not necessarily those of the AIC.

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Uink, B., Modecki, K.L., Barber, B.L. et al. Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Adolescents with Elevated Externalizing Symptoms Show Heightened Emotion Reactivity to Daily Stress: An Experience Sampling Study. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 49, 741–756 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-018-0784-x

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Keywords

  • Experience Sampling
  • Emotion reactivity
  • Externalizing
  • Socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Adolescents