Adolescents experience more emotional stressors than any other age group. It is during adolescence that emotional development is most evident, even though the foundation for emotional experience, arousal and expression has already been formed. As infants, children have concordant emotions. Essentially, infants’ emotional experiences lead to emotional arousal that reflects their experience. They then express their emotions in authentic ways. As children grow, their emotional expression becomes subject to external influences. Children who are raised in controlling and unaccepting homes may be shunned if they express sadness, anger or fear. This can lead them to internalize their emotions, thus changing the way in which they express their emotions.
Dianna M. Lanteigne of the Department of Psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada recently led a study to see how emotional concordance and discordance manifested in adolescent girls under stress. She chose to study girls rather than boys, because they are at increased risk for negative mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Insight into their emotional states could provide information about their vulnerability to such conditions. Lanteigne assigned a speech to 49 adolescent girls and rated how their levels of emotional experience, arousal, and expression affected their ability to function on a socioemotional level.
The results revealed two distinct patterns of emotional groupings. The first group was the high Experience, high Expression, low Arousal group (EE). These girls had high levels of experience with low emotional arousal exhibited physiologically. But they also had high emotional expression. These girls tended to try to suppress their emotions the most, but usually failed at successfully concealing their emotions. This group experienced the most shame and had more difficulty with interpersonal relationships. In contrast, the Aroused group (AA) was low in experience and expression and high in emotional arousal. They seemed to fare better under stress. They were better able to regulate their emotions, and were less impulsive than the other girls. Many of the older girls fell into this group, which could suggest maturity affected their emotional regulation.
Some of the participants were very low in arousal and expression but high in experience. This dynamic was directly associated to higher levels of internalizing and depression. Overall, few of the girls in this study had consistent levels of all three emotional domains. “The results from the present study suggest that discordance may be the norm rather than the exception as adolescent girls adapt to social challenges,” Lanteigne said. Future work may continue to explore how emotional discordance can help identify young people at risk for internalizing and emotional regulation problems during adolescence.
Lanteigne, D. M., Flynn, J. J., Eastabrook, J. M., and Hollenstein, T. (2012). Discordant patterns among emotional experience, arousal, and expression in adolescence: relations with emotion regulation and internalizing problems. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029968
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