The ability to regulate our emotional response to everyday challenges is critical to living successfully as an adult. Research suggests that these abilities have a long developmental trajectory over the course of childhood and into adolescence. Because of this long trajectory we believe that these abilities might be significantly impacted by the experiences that children and adolescents have. What parts of an adolescent’s experiences influence his or her emotional response? Could the experience of difficult and stressful experiences be part of what affects an individual’s emotional development? And could stress reactivity predict differences in emotional sensitivity? In this study, adolescents came to the lab and individually filled out some surveys that asked questions about the challenges they have faced as children. In addition, we asked them about events that may have happened to them and their reactions to those events. We also measured stress reactivity markers like heart rate while they did a challenging task. The way children respond to stressful experiences when they are young may shape the way they react to experiences as adults and adolescents. This has major implications for their emotional and psychological health. By better identifying the biological substrates relating stressful experiences to emotional health during adolescence we aim to better identify how to help children cope with emotional challenges. This project is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Career Development Award to Dr McLaughlin.
Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D.
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