Examining the Interplay of Vagal Tone and Parenting as Predictors of Child Psychopathology
Kiff, Cara J.
MetadataShow full item record
Emotion dysregulation is a critical factor in the development of psychopathology (Cicchetti, Ackerman, & Izard, 1995), and deficits in emotion regulation are a core component of many psychiatric disorders (DelCarmen-Wiggins, 2008). Given its importance, understanding factors that contribute to the development of emotion dysregulation is essential for identifying mechanisms underlying the development of psychopathology. Rearing behaviors have been identified as key predictors of children's emotional reactivity and regulation strategies (Eisenberg, Cumberland, & Spinrad, 1998) and potential targets of intervention. This study tested bidirectional relations between vagal tone, a physiological indicator of emotional reactivity, and parenting behaviors. More specifically, we examined how initial levels and changes in vagal tone predicted anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior problems in young children, and how parenting shapes children's vagal tone over time. In addition, children's cognitive self-regulation was purported to interact with emotional reactivity, serving to amplify or mitigate the effects of emotional dysregulation. Thus, we considered how these processes might vary across levels of children's self-regulation, identifying how executive control may moderate the relation of emotional reactivity to parenting and psychopathology. These hypotheses were tested using a sample of 305 3-year-old children and their mothers assessed across four time points, each separated by nine months. Children's physiologic emotional reactivity and observations of maternal parenting were measured when children were 36-, 45-, and 54-months old and were examined as predictors of psychopathology at 63-months of age. The results indicate that children's vagal tone, as measured by Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia, did not predict the emergence of psychopathology. Instead, symptoms of anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior problems persisted from early through late preschool. Further, initial levels and changes in vagal tone were predicted by children's anxiety and depression symptoms at the start of the study. In addition, children's executive control moderated the effect of initial vagal tone in shaping parenting. Specifically, children low in self-control elicited less maternal responsiveness, which persisted across time. Overall, these findings suggest that the mechanisms of developmental psychopathology are dynamic and complex. It is therefore important to account for dual components of regulation, emotional and executive, in shaping maternal behavior across time.
- Psychology