Adolescent Physiological Reactivity and the Caregiver: Parenting Behaviors and Physiological Synchrony
Vreeland, Allison JoAn
The effects parents have on child development has been thoroughly documented in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies with diverse methodologies. However, there has been less focus on disentangling the effects of parents on the development of children’s autonomic nervous system (ANS). The following studies aim to investigate the effects of both parenting behaviors and parent physiological reactivity on adolescent sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system functioning. Further, I investigate whether certain patterns of arousal and regulation as reflected in ANS function, operate as vulnerability or protective factors in the development of internalizing and externalizing symptoms. The two studies focus on the two main branches of the ANS: the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems. The SNS and PNS are key components of the human stress response system and may be individual difference variables that increase or decrease susceptibility to psychopathology. Indeed, recent studies indicate that both skin conductance level (SCL) and respiratory sinus arrythmia (RSA) have been useful as sympathetic and parasympathetic indicators of child adjustment, and, more recently, as moderators of child maladjustment. The primary aim of Study 1 was to examine the association between parenting behaviors, the adolescent ANS, and internalizing and externalizing symptoms in adolescents. Results indicate that RSA at baseline significantly moderated the association between SCL reactivity and adolescent externalizing symptoms. Study 2 examined parent-adolescent physiological synchrony during a conflict interaction task. Results of correlational analyses indicate positive parent-adolescent SCL synchrony was associated with greater adolescent externalizing symptoms and history of emotional abuse. These results suggest that positive physiological synchrony during a stressful take may not be adaptive for adolescents.