Emotional Variability Predicts Mood and Behavior of Adolescents

Emotional dysregulation can be a predictor of future psychological problems. People who experience overwhelming worry or fear may be at increased risk for the development of anxiety issues. Individuals who have difficulty managing their anger and repeatedly exhibit explosive outbursts may have aggressive tendencies later on in life. “High levels and prolonged duration of negative emotions and heightened emotional variability may be signs of emotional dysregulation,” said Anna Neumann of the Department of Developmental Psychology at VU University in the Netherlands. “Individual differences in emotion regulation and their relation with the development of psychopathology become especially relevant during the developmental period of adolescence.” Neumann recently led a study that examined how four emotions; happiness, anxiety, anger and sadness, influenced emotional regulation and emotional variability (EV), during adolescence. “Several cross-sectional studies demonstrate that in adolescence, high levels of negative emotions, and high levels of EV are related to symptoms of depression and externalizing problems.” Neumann added, “These findings are commonly interpreted as suggesting that emotion dysregulation influences the development of psychopathology.”

The researchers assessed adolescents from 230 area schools for their study. The 497 teens and their families were interviewed five times over a span of a year and a half and were evaluated based on the four emotions. The results showed that emotional dysregulation affected the girls more than the boys. “Females reported significantly higher levels of anxiety disorder symptoms and depressive symptoms than males at both annual assessments, while no sex differences were found for aggressive behavior. Females also reported higher sadness levels than males, but males and females did not differ on the levels of happiness, anger, and anxiety,” said Neumann.  She added, “In addition to application to research and theory, the study of basic emotional processes in adolescence is also informative for prevention and intervention efforts, as early forms of emotion dysregulation can indicate risk for psychopathology. An important message regarding intervention from the present study, then, is to consider the entire emotional spectrum.”

Neumann, Anna, Pol A.C. Van Lier, Tom Frijns, Wim Meeus, and Hans M. Koot. “Emotional Dynamics in the Development of Early Adolescent Psychopathology: A One-Year Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 39.3 (2011): 657-69. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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  • vavoom


    November 11th, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    Well yeah you have to think that if a kid has a hard time regulating those emotions as a kid that this is naturally going to be something that will follow him or her later in life too.

  • Olivia


    November 12th, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    I am all for being a proponent for early intervention and getting kids help from an early age when we realize that there is something a bit off. But I do often wonder if when we do so much of this do we sometimes set these children up to fail? And what I mean by this is do we teach tham that this is what they are so this is what they become? I hope not as that would be such a sad thing to see happen to a child, but sometimes it does seem like if someone tells us something enough that we will believe it. And we know how impressionable kids can be. I think that we have to be very careful in how these interventions are handled and just mae sure that we are actually treating the issue at hand, and not setting them up for something much larger later on.

  • Viki


    November 13th, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    Some kids are more expressive than others.And some children are just more angrier or happier or anything compared to others.That is just our personality.unless there is a serious difference from the normal ‘range’,I dont think there is any reason for panic.

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