Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Discordant Patterns among Emotional Experience, Arousal, and Expression in Adolescence: Relations with Emotion Regulation and Internalizing Problems

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Discordant Patterns among Emotional Experience, Arousal, and Expression in Adolescence: Relations with Emotion Regulation and Internalizing Problems

Article excerpt

Adolescence is a developmental period fraught with emotional intensity and greater sensitivity to stress (Larson & Ham, 1993). Importantly, there are no new discrete emotional states that emerge in adolescence that were not already present in childhood (Rosenblum & Lewis, 2003), therefore the developmental changes manifest in how these emotional states arise and dissipate (Steinberg, 2008). Emotional dynamics occur in three primary domains: (1) experience is the internal subjective thoughts and appraisals, (2) arousal reflects the internal bodily responses, and (3) emotional expression is an external behavioural response that signifies one's internal state to others (see Figure 1). In terms of experience in adolescence, the cognitive appraisals, attributions, and evaluations of self and others become more global and negalively biased (Hoffman, Cole, Martin, Tram, & Seroczynski, 2000; Mezulis, Abramson, Hyde, & Hankin, 2004). At the same time, the physiological systems underlying emotional arousability, sensitivity, and downregulation (e.g., sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) are undergoing changes related to puberty (Gunnar, Wewerka, Frenn, Long, & Griggs, 2009; Spear, 2009; Stroud et al., 2009). Furthermore, adolescents become more adept at managing their emotions to achieve social goals through "emotional dissemblance" or masking emotional expressions (Rosenblum & Lewis, 2003; Saami & Weber, 1999), often through nervous laughter, sarcasm, and other forms of expression that are discrepant from underlying emotional feelings (Flannery, Montemayor, Eberly & Torquati, 1993; Safyer & Hauser, 1994). Thus, the way that adolescents modulate their emotional appraisals, arousal, and expressions can determine the frequency, intensity, and persistence of the emotional reactions that are typical for this age. However, emotion regulation in each of these domains can mature at different rates across individuals. As with adults (Gross, 1998b; Mauss, Levenson, McCarter, Wilhelm, & Gross, 2005), the modulation in these three domains may occur relatively independently such that emotional responses are likely to be discrepant or discordant, rather than coherent or concordant, especially in socially significant contexts where expression is important (Mauss & Robinson, 2009; Smith, Hubbard & Laurenceau, 2011; Zalewski, Lengua, Wilson, Trancik & Bazinet, 2011). Thus, the richest information that can be gleaned from studying the emotion system comes not only from considering self-reported experience, physiological arousal, and observed expression in isolation, but from examining the way these domains integrate and dynamically affect one another (Mauss & Robinson, 2009).

The Emotion System and Concordance

Coordination among experience, expression, and arousal has been referred to as concordance, coherence, or convergence (e.g., Mauss et al" 2005; Quas, Hong, Alkon & Boyce, 2000; Rosenberg & Ekman, 1994; Scherer, 2005).' For example, an intense fear response should be evident as ( 1 ) strong self-reported feelings of fear, (2) high physiological arousal, such as increased heart-rate, blood pressure, and sweating (Matsumoto, Keltner, Shiota, O'Sullivan, & Frank, 2008; Stemmier, 2004), and (3) clear emotional expressions of fear, such as eyebrows raised and pulled together, upper eyelids raised, eye lids tensed, and lips stretched horizontally (Ekman & Friesen, 1978; Matsumoto et al., 2008). It is intuitive to think that the domains are concordant in their mutual amplification, however with the moderate emotional intensities that can be ethically elicited in the laboratory, the literature to date reports substantial variation in the strength and direction of associations (Hastings, Zahn-Waxler, & Usher, 2007; Hubbard et al., 2004; Mauss et al., 2005; Mauss & Robinson, 2009). In fact, discordance among measures seems to be the norm rather than the exception (Mauss & Robinson, 2009), and the direction and magnitude is meaningful for understanding individual differences in emotional functioning such as internalizing and externalizing problems and coping skills (Hastings et al. …

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