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Development of Emotion Regulation Dynamics Across Early Childhood: a Multiple Time-Scale Approach

Abstract

Children should become more effective at regulating emotion as they age. Longitudinal evidence of such change, however, is scarce. This study uses a multiple-time scale approach to test the hypothesis that the self-regulation of emotion—the engagement of executive processes to influence the dynamics of prepotent emotional responses—becomes more effective as children move through early childhood. Second-by-second time-series data obtained from behavioral observation of 120 children (46% female) during an 8-min frustration-eliciting wait task completed at four ages (24 months, 36 months, 48 months, 5 years) were modeled using bivariate coupled differential equation models designed to capture age-related changes in the intrinsic dynamics and bidirectional coupling of prepotent and executive processes. Results revealed indirect influences of executive processes on the intrinsic dynamics of children’s desire and frustration increased with age but also revealed complex and non-linear age-related changes in how specific aspects of the dynamic interplay between prepotent responses and executive processes influence the effectiveness of regulation at different ages. The findings illustrate the utility of using a dynamics system approach to articulate and study how specific aspects of emotion regulation change with age.

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Data Availability

Data cannot be made freely available due to participant data protection laws, but unidentified data are available from the authors upon request.

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Funding

Research reported in this manuscript was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute of Child Health and Development of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01 HD076994. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Pamela M. Cole.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest.

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This project was approved by The Pennsylvania State University’s Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects Research.

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Informed consent for parents, and by parents for their children, was obtained from all participants in accordance with protocols approved by the University’s Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects Research.

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Handling editor: Seth D. Pollak

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Cole, P.M., Lougheed, J.P., Chow, SM. et al. Development of Emotion Regulation Dynamics Across Early Childhood: a Multiple Time-Scale Approach. Affec Sci 1, 28–41 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42761-020-00004-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s42761-020-00004-y

Keywords

  • Emotion regulation development
  • Early childhood
  • Dynamic systems modeling
  • Damped oscillator model