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Despite the call for multilevel observation of negative affect, including multiple physiological systems, too little empirical research has been conducted in infants and young children, and physiology-affect associations are not consistently reported. We examined changes in heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period in 24-month-olds across four increasingly challenging, emotion-eliciting tasks. We predicted that changes in cardiac reactivity would be systematically related to changes in negative affect. Results largely support the predictions with one important exception. With increasing distress across the tasks, HR increased and RSA decreased. However, no significant changes in PEP were observed. HR was associated with negative affect during all tasks, and changes in HR were related to changes in negative affect. PEP and negative affect were associated, but only marginally so. Within-subject analyses confirmed the predicted associations. Finally, the associations between physiology and negative affect were different for boys and girls. We discuss these results in the context of implications for future research on cardiac-affect associations in young children.
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Some children show emotion that is not consistent with normative appraisal of the context and can therefore be defined as context inappropriate (CI). The authors used individual growth curve modeling and hierarchical multiple regression analyses to examine whether CI anger predicts differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, as manifest in salivary cortisol measures. About 23% of the 360 children (ages 6-10 years, primarily 7-8) showed at least 1 expression of CI anger in situations designed to elicit positive affect. Expression of anger across 2 positive assessments was less common (around 4%). CI anger predicted the hypothesized lower levels of cortisol beyond that attributed to context appropriate anger. Boys' CI anger predicted lower morning cortisol and flatter slopes. Results suggest that this novel approach to studying children's emotion across varying contexts can provide insight into affective style.
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We investigated the reliability and validity of a video-based method of measuring the magnitude of children's emotion-modulated startle response when electromyographic (EMG) measurement is not feasible. Thirty-one children between the ages of 4 and 7 years were videotaped while watching short video clips designed to elicit happiness or fear. Embedded in the audio track of the video clips were acoustic startle probes. A coding system was developed to quantify from the video record the strength of the eye-blink startle response to the probes. EMG measurement of the eye blink was obtained simultaneously. Intercoder reliability for the video coding was high (Cohen's kappa = .90). The average within-subjects probe-by-probe correlation between the EMG- and video-based methods was .84. Group-level correlations between the methods were also strong, and there was some evidence of emotion modulation of the startle response with both the EMG- and the video-derived data. Although the video method cannot be used to assess the latency, probability, or duration of startle blinks, the findings indicate that it can serve as a valid proxy of EMG in the assessment of the magnitude of emotion-modulated startle in studies of children conducted outside of a laboratory setting, where traditional psychophysiological methods are not feasible.
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The putative association between fear-related behaviors and peripheral sympathetic and neuroendocrine reactivity has not been replicated consistently. This inconsistency was addressed in a reexamination of the characterization of children with extreme fearful reactions by focusing on the match between distress behaviors and the eliciting context. Eighty 24-month-old children were observed in 4 mildly threatening contexts, and the relations among different measures of fear-related behaviors, reactive and basal cortisol levels, and baseline cardiac measures of heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period (PEP) were examined. The hypothesis that only behaviors under the less threatening context would be associated with higher cortisol and sympathetic cardiac activity was confirmed; only task-specific freezing behavior predicted higher reactive and basal cortisol levels and resting PEP measured 1 week later. Implications for the conceptualization of dysregulated fear behaviors in the classification of extremely fearful children are discussed.
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Because individual differences in emotion regulation are associated with risk for childhood behavioral problems, multidisciplinary investigation of the genetic and neural underpinnings of emotion regulation should be a research priority. Here, we summarize research findings from three independent laboratories to demonstrate the ways in which a variety of developmental human neuroscience-based approaches can address critical conceptual issues in the emergence of emotion regulation. To do so, we present three perspectives on how developmental neurobiology constrains and enriches theories of ER. The three perspectives of (1) genetics, (2) brain structure and function, and (3) plasticity of development are illustrated with empirical results derived from both typical and atypical samples of children and adults. These perspectives are complementary and sometimes represent different levels of analysis of the same question.
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Despite implications that stranger fear is an important aspect of developing behavioral inhibition, a known risk factor for anxiety, normative and atypical developmental trajectories of stranger fear across infancy and toddlerhood remain understudied. We used a large, longitudinal data set (N = 1285) including multi-trait, multi-method assessments of temperament to examine the normative course of development for stranger fear and to explore the possibility that individual differences exist in trajectories of stranger fear development between 6 and 36 months of age. A latent class growth analysis suggested four different trajectories of stranger fear during this period. Stable, high levels of stranger fear over time were associated with poorer RSA suppression at 6 months of age. Rates of concordance in trajectory-based class membership for identical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic) twins, along with associations between atypical stranger fear development and greater anxiety-related maternal characteristics, suggested that individual differences in developmental trajectories of stranger fear may be heritable. Importantly, trajectories of stranger fear during infancy and toddlerhood were linked to individual differences in behavioral inhibition, with chronically high levels of stranger fear and sharp increases in stranger fear over time related to greater levels of inhibition than other developmental trajectories.
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Individual variation in the experience and expression of pleasure may relate to differential patterns of lateral frontal activity. Brain electrical measures have been used to study the asymmetric involvement of lateral frontal cortex in positive emotion, but the excellent time resolution of these measures has not been used to capture second-by-second changes in ongoing emotion until now. The relationship between pleasure and second-by-second lateral frontal activity was examined with the use of hierarchical linear modeling in a sample of 128 children ages 6-10 years. Electroencephalographic activity was recorded during "pop-out toy," a standardized task that elicits pleasure. The task consisted of 3 epochs: an anticipation period sandwiched between 2 play periods. The amount of pleasure expressed during the task predicted the pattern of nonlinear change in lateral frontal activity. Children who expressed increasing amounts of pleasure during the task exhibited increasing left lateral frontal activity during the task, whereas children who expressed contentment exhibited increasing right/decreasing left activity. These findings indicate that task-dependent changes in pleasure relate to dynamic, nonlinear changes in lateral frontal activity as the task unfolds.
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Empathy is the combined ability to interpret the emotional states of others and experience resultant, related emotions. The relation between prefrontal electroencephalographic asymmetry and emotion in infants and children is well known. The relationship between positive emotion (assessed via parent-report), empathy (measured via observation) and second-by-second brain electrical activity (recorded during a pleasurable task) was investigated using a sample of 128 six to ten year olds. Contentment predicted increasing left-sided frontopolar activation (p<.05). Empathic concern and one form of positive empathy predicted increasing right-sided frontopolar activation (ps<.05). A second form of positive empathy predicted increasing left-sided dorsolateral activation (p<.05). This suggests that positive emotion and (negative and positive) empathy predict changes in prefrontal activity in children during a pleasurable task.
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Background Comorbidity among childhood mental health symptoms is common in clinical and community samples and should be accounted for when investigating etiology. We therefore aimed to uncover latent classes of mental health symptoms in middle childhood in a community sample, and to determine the latent genetic and environmental influences on those classes. Methods The sample comprised representative cohorts of twins. A questionnaire-based assessment of mental health symptoms was used in latent class analyses. Data on 3223 twins (1578 boys and 1645 girls) with a mean age of 7.5 years were analyzed. The sample was predominantly non-Hispanic Caucasian (92.1%). Results Latent class models delineated groups of children according to symptom profiles–not necessarily clinical groups but groups representing the general population, most with scores in the normative range. The best-fitting models suggested 9 classes for both girls and boys. Eight of the classes were very similar across sexes; these classes ranged from a “Low Symptom” class to a “Moderately Internalizing & Severely Externalizing” class. In addition, a “Moderately Anxious” class was identified for girls but not boys, and a “Severely Impulsive & Inattentive” class was identified for boys but not girls. Sex-combined analyses implicated moderate genetic influences for all classes. Shared environmental influences were moderate for the “Low Symptom” and “Moderately Internalizing & Severely Externalizing” classes, and small to zero for other classes. Conclusions We conclude that symptom classes are largely similar across sexes in middle childhood. Heritability was moderate for all classes, but shared environment played a greater role for classes in which no one type of symptom predominated.
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Although several studies have examined anterior asymmetric brain electrical activity and cortisol in infants, children, and adults, the direct association between asymmetry and cortisol has not systematically been reported. In nonhuman primates, greater relative right anterior activation has been associated with higher cortisol levels. The current study examines the relation between frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry and cortisol (basal and reactive) and withdrawal-related behaviors (fear and sadness) in 6-month-old infants. As predicted, the authors found that higher basal and reactive cortisol levels were associated with extreme right EEG asymmetry. EEG during the withdrawal-negative affect task was associated with fear and sadness behaviors. Results are interpreted in the context of the previous primate work, and some putative mechanisms are discussed.
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