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Dr. Benjamin Houltberg
Department of Professional Studies
Department of Educational Studies
Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne
The family system’s perspective posits that families consist of multiple subsystems, each of which affects and is affected by the processes of other subsystems. For example, interactions between parents may contribute to a family emotional climate that shapes emotion regulation processes and impact the mental health of their children (Morris et al. 2007). This would suggest that one way that the family emotional climate impacts social and emotional development is through the socialization of emotion regulation abilities. Emotion regulation is the process through which one maintains and modulates the expression, occurrence and intensity of emotions (Thompson, 1994). On the other hand, emotion reactivity represents the tendency to react to stressors with high degrees of emotional lability, including anger, irritability, and frustration (Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994).
Emotion regulation difficulties have consistently been linked to psychopathology in individuals across the lifespan, however, the transition to adulthood (ages 18-25) has received recent attention due to the brain changes in the areas associated with new levels of sophistication in thinking and emotional control (Giedd, 2004). Changes in cognitive thinking structures and increased ability for understanding abstract concepts in late adolescence and early adulthood may provide an important window of opportunity for intervention. However, there has been little investigation of the role of emotion regulation in explaining the relationship between the family emotional climate and mental health outcomes in emerging adults.
Participants were part of a larger study involving data collected from 755 young adults (M = 20.31) recruited at several different universities on the west coast. Race and ethnicity was self-identified as 46% Hispanic/Latino, 18% Asian, 13% Caucasian, 33% other minority groups participants. Young adult reports were used in all variables of interest. Interparental conflict styles were based on sample items (11-items) such as “How often do your parents insult (show disrespect for) each other” (Buehler et al., 1995). Interparental conflict resolution (5-items) included items such as “How often do disagreements between your parents end in a positive manner” (Plunkett & Henry, 1999). Anger regulation (5 items; e.g.“When I am feeling mad, I control my temper”) and reactivity (3 items; e.g., “I do things like slam doors when I am mad) were also examined (Zeman, et al., 2002). The Center of Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CES-D) was used to measure depression symptoms and the Generalized Anxeity Disorder scale (GAD-7) scale was used to measure generalized anxiety symptoms.
Utilizing a structural equation model, we found interparental conflict was directly and indirectly related to depression and anxiety through anger reactivity. Meanwhile, we found parental conflict resolution was inversely and directly related to depression and only indirectly related to anxiety through anger regulation. Our results suggest that the family emotional climate continues to play an important role in mental health of emerging adults. Additionally, emotion regulation processes is one mechanism by which the family emotional climate may impact young adults’ mental health. Intervention and prevention efforts may benefit from considering the family emotional climate of young adults and by focusing on increasing emotion regulation abilities.
Social and Behavioral Sciences
McCoy, Jacqueline B. and Plunkett, Scott W., "Family Emotional Climate and Emotion Regulation in Relation to Mental Health of Emerging Adults" (2014). 2014 IPFW Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium. 31.