Development of Effortful Control as a Moderator of the Longitudinal Relations of Negative Reactivity and Symptoms in Preschool
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Aspects of children’s temperament, or biologically based differences in reactivity and regulation, are often studied in relation to symptoms of psychopathology. Specifically, children’s propensity to experience negative emotions, or negative reactivity, has been related to both internalizing and externalizing symptoms (Muris, 2006). Negative reactivity is a multifaceted construct capturing heterogeneous dimensions that may differentially confer risk for psychopathology. Specifically, evidence suggests that high fear reactivity may be related to risk for internalizing symptoms, while frustration reactivity appears more strongly related to externalizing symptoms, though may be a more pervasive risk for both symptom types (Kagan, Snidman, Zentner, & Peterson, 1999; Rothbart, 2007). In contrast, effortful control, one component of self-regulation, has been associated with reduced symptoms of psychopathology and is defined as the capacity to inhibit a dominant response in favor of a subdominant, more adaptive behavior (Eisenberg et al., 2001). This regulatory component of temperament may, therefore, serve as a moderator of the relation between negative reactivity and children’s symptoms. While temperament-by-temperament interactions appear very likely, particularly between reactive and regulatory components, little research has examined interactions between these factors in predicting growth of children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms over time. Further, very few studies have examined fear and frustration as independent components of negative reactivity within the same model. The current study tested effortful control as a moderator of both fear and frustration on children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms to allow for differential effects of components of reactivity on symptom type. Additionally, longitudinal data was used to examine how the development of effortful control moderates growth between reactivity and symptoms over time. A community based sample of 306 children and their female primary caregivers were assessed across four waves of data when the children were 3 to 5 years old. Multiple assessment methods were implemented, including physiological and observed measures, neuropsychological assessment, and mother-report questionnaire data. The results suggest a complex pattern of interactions between temperament dimensions predicting trajectories of symptom growth. Specifically, frustration reactivity and initial effortful control predicted growth in internalizing and externalizing symptoms, whereas, fear reactivity interacted with both initial levels and growth in effortful control to predict externalizing symptoms only. Overall, these findings point to potentially different pathways to risk for internalizing and externalizing symptoms and highlight potential targets for treatment based on temperamental vulnerability.
- Psychology