Adolescent Social Relationships and the Development of Early Adult Emotion Regulation
Hessel, Elenda, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Allen, Joseph, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
This study used longitudinal survey, observational, and functional neuroimaging, data in a community sample to examine how social relationships during adolescence predict individuals’ difficulties with emotion regulation abilities, use of emotion regulation strategies and their social regulation of emotion in early adulthood. Additionally, this study examined prospective links between young adults’ difficulties with emotion regulation abilities and use of emotion regulation strategies and their concurrent psychological adjustment (i.e. internalizing symptoms and problems due to substance abuse). In regards to difficulties with emotion regulation abilities, with a few exceptions, no measures of adolescent peer and romantic relationships were found to predict overall difficulties with emotion regulation abilities or most of the specific difficulties with emotion regulation abilities. However, a number of aspects of adolescent peer and romantic relationships—as measured by survey and observational methods—were found to predict lack of emotional awareness in early adulthood. Many of these associations were moderated by participant income or gender. Overall, it appears that young adult lack of emotional awareness may be more strongly predicted by aspects of peer and romantic relationships in early adulthood than overall difficulties with emotion regulation abilities, or any other specific sub-abilities.
A number of results predicting self-reported emotion regulation outcomes from aspects of romantic relationships were moderated by gender. In all but a few findings, the associations between adolescent romantic relationships and adult emotion regulation outcomes were stronger for males than for females. This may suggest that boys, more so than girls, rely on their romantic partners for support or encouragement of their emotional expression.
With regards to the social regulation of emotional reactivity as indexed by threat-related neural activation, limited evidence indicated that one specific aspect of adolescent peer and romantic relationships—dyadic supportive behavior—predicted differences in social regulation of emotion in young adults. Specifically, it was found that greater dyadic supportive behavior in interactions with the close peer at ages 15-17 and romantic partner at ages 17-19 corresponded with less threat-related activation during partner hand holding relative to the alone condition. These effects were found in the anterior cingulate cortex, in regards to peer relationships, and the orbitofrontal cortex, in regards to romantic relationships—as assessed using functional neuroimaging methodology. No other effects were found predicting young adult social regulation of emotional reactivity from adolescent peer or romantic relationships.
In regards to emotion regulation predicting concurrent psychopathology, no results were found for early adulthood emotional awareness, cognitive reappraisal, or expressive suppression predicting concurrent depression and anxiety, problems due to alcohol, or ever having experimented with hard drugs. Similarly, overall difficulties with emotion regulation abilities were not found to significantly predict concurrent depression and anxiety symptoms, but they were found to predict total problems due to alcohol and having experimented with hard drugs. The importance of expanding the understanding of how aspects of adolescent peer and romantic relationships may contribute to subsequent emotion regulation is highlighted and explored.
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Adolescence, Emotion Regulation, Friendships, Romantic Relationships, Social Support
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development National Institute of Mental Health