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Individual Differences in Adolescents' Sympathetic - Psychology ...

Individual Differences in Adolescents' Sympathetic - Psychology ...

Individual Differences in Adolescents' Sympathetic - Psychology

Developmental Psychology © 2012 American Psychological Association 2012, Vol. ●●, No. ●, 000–000 0012-1649/12/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0026901 Individual Differences in Adolescents’ Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Functioning Moderate Associations Between Family Environment and Psychosocial Adjustment Lisa M. Diamond, Christopher P. Fagundes, and Matthew R. Cribbet University of Utah The present study tested whether individual differences in autonomic nervous system functioning interact with environmental risk factors to predict adolescents’ psychosocial functioning. The authors assessed skin conductance and respiratory sinus arrhythmia at rest and during laboratory stressors in 110 14-year-olds. Subsequently, adolescents and their mothers provided both questionnaire and daily diary data (over 10 days) on emotional and interpersonal functioning. The authors found stronger associations between environmental risk factors (having a single-mother household or a mother with high internalizing problems) and psychosocial outcomes (externalizing problems, daily negative affect, and daily interaction quality) among youths with specific patterns of tonic and stress-induced sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity, but the pattern of moderating effects differed between boys and girls. The findings support the notion that individual differences in autonomic functioning index variation in youth’s susceptibility to environmental risk factors. Keywords: autonomic reactivity, RSA, SCL, adolescence, psychosocial adjustment A growing body of research has investigated whether individual differences in autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning predispose children to be differentially sensitive to their environmental contexts. Most of this research has adopted a diathesis-stress or “dual-risk” perspective, positing that negative rearing environments have disproportionately negative effects on children with exaggerated ANS responses to stress (reviewed by Boyce & Ellis, 2005). Yet recently, an alternative perspective has emerged, denoted differential susceptibility (Belsky, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van Ijzendoorn, 2007; Belsky & Pluess, 2009; Del Giudice, Ellis, & Shirtcliff, 2011; Ellis, Boyce, Belsky, Bakermans- Kranenburg, & Van Ijzendoorn, 2011) positing that the same factors that render children susceptible to negative environments also render them susceptible to positive environments. Hence, both dual-risk and differential susceptibility (DS) perspectives predict that children with certain patterns of ANS functioning will show disproportionately negative outcomes in negative environmental contexts (as shown by Boyce, Chesney, Alkon, & Tschann, 1995; Bubier, Drabick, & Breiner, 2009; Cummings, El-Sheikh, Kouros, & Keller, 2007; El-Sheikh, Keller, & Erath, 2007; El-Sheikh et al., Lisa M. Diamond, Christopher P. Fagundes, and Matthew R. Cribbet, Department of Psychology, University of Utah. Christopher P. Fagundes is now at the Ohio State University School of Medicine. This project was supported by W. T. Grant Foundation Grant 2610, awarded to Lisa M. Diamond. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lisa M. Diamond, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 South 1530 East, Room 502, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0251. E-mail: diamond@ psych.utah.edu 1 2009; Katz, 2007), but the DS perspective additionally predicts that these children will show disproportionately positive outcomes in positive environments (reviewed in Belsky et al., 2007; Belsky & Pluess, 2009). In the present study, we examined whether this is the case by testing whether individual differences in baseline and stress-induced ANS functioning moderate adolescents’ sensitivity to family environmental factors (specifically, two-parent vs. single-parent family structure and mothers’ internalizing problems). We tested for moderating effects involving three different psychosocial outcomes—externalizing problems, daily negative affect, and daily mother-perceived interaction quality—and we compared the applicability of a dual-risk versus a DS perspective for different combinations of ANS moderators, environmental factors, and outcomes. Autonomic Nervous System Functioning and Child-Adolescent Outcomes Individual differences in resting and stress-induced ANS functioning have received increasing attention as predictors of child adjustment. The ANS has two branches—the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). During stress, SNS engagement (typically measured via skin conductance, or SCL) produces increased heart rate and blood pressure. Excessive SNS reactivity has been posited as a potential marker of children’s hypersensitivity to environmental challenges (Boucsein, 1991), and has been found to predict reactive aggression (Hubbard et al., 2002), anxiety (Weems, Zakem, Costa, Cannon, & Watts, 2005), and internalizing and externalizing problems (El-Sheikh et al., 2007). In contrast to the SNS, the PNS provides for tonic inhibitory control of cardiac output. Individuals with high tonic PNS regulation are conceptualized as having nervous systems that respond

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