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Parent-Child Cohesion and College Students’ Positive/Negative Affect: The Moderating Roles of Sympathetic Nervous System Activity and Parent-Child Separation Experience


Parent-child separation caused by parental migration could have adverse effects on individuals’ emotional adaptation. However, research on this topic is limited in its focus on childhood or adolescence samples and solely environmental factors, and less is known about how positive environmental factors, biological factors and parent-child separation experience interact to influence emotional adaptation in emerging adulthood. The present study addressed these issues by investigating the relationships between parent-child cohesion and positive/negative affect, and examining the moderating roles of sympathetic nervous system activity (measured by skin conductance level reactivity, SCLR) and parent-child separation experience in the relationships. Data from 248 college students (Mage = 18.91 years, SD = 0.70; 32.3% males), including 158 college students with parent-child separation experience and 90 college students without parent-child separation experience. The results showed that parent-child cohesion predicted college students’ positive/negative affect. Moreover, the moderating role of SCLR on the relationship between father-child cohesion and negative affect varied with parent-child separation experience. Specifically, father-child cohesion negatively predicted negative affect when SCLR was lower for college students with parent-child separation experience, while negatively predicted negative affect when SCLR was higher for college students without parent-child separation experience. These results indicate that the interaction pattern of Biological × Environmental predicting college students’ positive/negative affect varies across parent-child separation status in childhood or adolescence.

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We thank to the college students who volunteered to participate in this study.

Author’s Contributions

M.S. participated in design and coordination of the study, performed the statistical analyses and interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript; C.A. helped to perform the statistical analyses; J.Z. conceived of the study, and helped to interpret the data and draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant number: 32071077), Natural Science Foundation of Shandong Province (Grant number: ZR2020MC219), and Social Science Planning Project of Shandong Province (Grant number: 20BJYJ02).

Data Sharing Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Correspondence to Jingxin Zhao.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the ethics committee on human experimentation of Shandong Normal University and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all participants for being included in the study.

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Shangguan, M., Ao, C. & Zhao, J. Parent-Child Cohesion and College Students’ Positive/Negative Affect: The Moderating Roles of Sympathetic Nervous System Activity and Parent-Child Separation Experience. J Youth Adolescence 52, 1301–1312 (2023).

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