Positive Emotions in Parent-Child Interactions

How do positive emotions and positive child-parent interactions impact adolescent development?

How do positive emotions and positive child-parent interactions impact adolescent development? With this William T. Grant Scholar award, Diamond worked to obtain a deeper understanding of the psychological, behavioral, and biological causes and effects of positive emotions, so that they can be used to optimize psychological development. Using questionnaires, daily diaries, and laboratory assessments, the investigator tested how adolescents’ day-to-day positive emotions—particularly those experienced during interactions with their parents—influenced their physical and mental well-being, coping strategies, and romantic relationships over a five-year period. She also examined whether positive emotions and interactions counteract the detrimental effects of negative emotions, as well as whether or not the benefits of positive emotions are moderated by adolescents’ psychological and biological capacities for emotion regulation. Diamond’s research sample was a group of 200 13 year-old eighth graders (100 male and 100 female) attending private and public high schools in Salt Lake County, Utah, and surrounding counties. In the first years of the study, the investigator found that there was a greater incidence of adjustment problems in youth who were distant from their parents, as opposed to youth who were overly attached to their parents. Previous research has found that opposite to be true, claiming that the most anxiety and negative developmental consequences are found in youth who are the most attached to, and reliant upon, their parents. Diamond’s final report confirms her hypothesis that adolescents who experience consistent positive emotional communication with their parents—especially when parents actively boost their children’s positive emotions by responding with enthusiasm and responsiveness to their day-to-day disclosures of positive experiences—are significantly more resilient and better adjusted over time. Diamond also found gender differences in youths’ physiological capacities for emotion regulation. For girls, relationships between parents’ mental health problems and girls’ mental health issues and life dissatisfaction are associated with stress reactivity in the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for regulating functions that typically occur when the body is at rest, such as salivation and digestion). For boys, such relationships were associated with stress reactivity in the sympathetic nervous system (which produces the “fight or flight” response to stress).