Emotional Processes in Families: New Methods of Capturing Multiple Levels of Analysis

Principal Investigators

  • Melissa Sturge-Apple, Ph.D.
  • Patrick Davies, Ph.D.


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Individuals experience greater internal and external turmoil and stress during adolescence than earlier or later portions of the life span. In particular, early adolescence is a vital period for the negotiation of autonomy related changes in the parent-child relationship and studies support the contention that parent-adolescent conflict is at its highest during early adolescence and that it declines significantly, and possibly linearly, through mid-adolescence to its lowest levels in late adolescence. In turn, while normative parent-adolescent conflict is thought to be adaptive in teaching children how to successfully negotiate boundaries and relationships, higher conflict has been linked with detrimental outcomes including lower self-esteem, externalizing behavior problems, and internalizing symptoms. Addressing how adolescent reactivity arising from emotional processes within the parent-child context affect the development of these problems is likely to generate knowledge necessary to ultimately decrease the burden of mental illness associated with adolescent psychopathology.

However, progress toward understanding how emotional processes inform an understanding of associations between family and child functioning require research designs that simultaneously capture psychophysiological processes at multiple domains and levels of analysis. Indeed, much of the progress in understanding parent-adolescent relationships during the past decade has come from studies utilizing single informants (typically the adolescent). Furthermore, recent declines in empirical work on parent-adolescent conflict may be attributed, in part, to the diminished returned of continuing to replicate and refine research on the interplay between behavioral and subjective characteristics of parent-adolescent conflict. BRIDGE is designed to address these gaps through the development of innovative methods to test the viability of a multi-level quantification of emotional reactivity as a potential mechanism that informs pathways between family processes and adolescent psychological adjustment. This is accomplished through the collaborative expertise of an interdisciplinary network of scientists from disciplines of Developmental Psychology, Cardiology, Communications, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science

The specific aims are: (1) develop more feasible and economical wireless systems for validly capturing physiological processes underlying emotional reactivity during family interaction tasks, (2) investigate the utility for new latent variable growth modeling approaches for modeling functioning in multi-level systems, and (3) guided by predictions from a developmental process model, examine whether multi-system assessments of psychophysiological constructs are developmentally meaningful by examining predictors and sequelae of individual differences in individual components of reactivity in developmental process models.

To achieve these aims, BRIDGE is in the final stages of collecting information from 200 mothers, fathers, and their adolescent from the Rochester area over two annual measurement occasions.