Emotion and Personality Development in Childhood Research Paper

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A dramatic change in views about the roles of emotions in socioemotional development—including the relations between emotion and personality—has taken place in recent years. The traditional perspective was that emotions were experiential, intrapsychic events that occurred more or less secondarily, as by-products of more significant causal processes and phenomena. Thus, emotions were characterized as feelings or affects primarily limited to intrapersonal experience. Given that emotions were difficult to observe, define, and assess, little impetus therefore existed to include accounts of emotions in explanations of children’s social and personality development, and—for some scientific disciplines (e.g., behaviorism)—the study of emotions was even regarded as anathema to a science of behavior (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998).

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The past two decades of research and theory have advanced different perspectives on the role and significance of emotions to child development. Although a consensus on the definition and functions of emotions is not yet apparent— reflecting the fact that these phenomena remain elusive and difficult to capture—various current directions in the study of emotions place much greater emphasis on the significance and role of emotions in social functioning and personality development.

Support is increasing for the view that emotions play an important role in the appraisal and evaluation of children’s experiences and their readiness for action in response to contextual changes and events (Eisenberg, 1998; Oatley & Jenkins, 1996). Emotional expressions and emotional understanding are elements of social communication, and appropriate emotional regulation may be pertinent to children’s adaptive versus maladaptive functioning. Emotional expression and regulation are also fundamental to individual differences between children in temperament and personality. Moreover, according to a functionalist perspective on emotions, emotions constitute more than what might be measured as self-reported feelings. Instead, emotions are seen as reflecting processes and configurations of responding pertinent to children’s evaluation of the meaning of experiential contexts in relation to their goals (Campos, Campos, & Barrett, 1989; Jenkins, Oatlery, & Stein, 1998; Saarni, Mumme, & Campos, 1998). Emotions are understood as part ofthechild’simmediatereactionstoperson-environmentcontexts and of the extent to which their goals are met by ongoing events (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Stein, Trabasso, & Liwag, 1994). Thus, emotional functioning contributes to processes underlying the individual’s dynamic processes of adaptation or—alternatively—risk for the development of psychopathology.

The present research paper aims to provide state-of-the-art coverage of various themes pertaining to the increasing understanding of the role of emotions in children’s development, examining what is known, what is currently being done, and in what directions future conceptualizations and research are likely to take. Specifically, the organization of the paper is divided into three parts, reflecting a progression from (a) an examination of individual development of emotion and personality in children, to (b) a discussion of relational influences, and then to (c) a consideration of emotions and children’s adjustment.

Individual Development of Emotions and Personality in Children

Even if one is not yet prepared to accept the assumptions of the functionalist perspective regarding the role of emotions, emerging directions serve to call greater attention to the role of emotions in children’s individual development. At the least, children’s emotional expressions and regulation are understood to influence—and be influenced by—their social interactions, relationships, and contexts. Moreover, it follows that children’s expression and regulation of emotions are reciprocally related to the responses of others to their social functioning.

Emotions and emotionality are also increasingly seen as related to important individual differences between children in social functioning, temperament, and personality. For example, the conceptualization of self is related to emotional processes (Harter, 1998), including the self-conscious emotions of shame, guilt, and embarrassment (Lewis, Sullivan, Stranger, & Weiss, 1989; Denham, 2000). Moreover, emotions are related to fundamental differences between individuals in personal characteristics and styles of social functioning. Thus, attention has been called to the significance of reactivity and self-regulation—each with implications for emotional functioning—as basic dispositions of temperament (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Moreover, temperamental differences in infancy have been linked to individual differences in personality as individuals get older (Caspi, 1998; Caspi, Elder, & Bem, 1987).

Relational Influences on Emotional and Personality Development in Children

Increasing emphasis is also being placed on relational influences on emotional and personality development in childhood. A functionalist perspective on emotions is particularly pertinent to emotional processes in social contexts viewed from a relational perspective. Emotional expression and functioning are closely tied to the individual’s responses to social contexts, especially the contexts defined by significant categories of social relationships. For example, children’s relationships with parents serve as an important foundation for emotional functioning in social situations. Thus, security of attachment pertains to children’s emotional regulation in stressful situations (Cassidy, 1994; Thompson & Calkins, 1994). At the same time, the quality of emotional expressions and communications is related to the development of attachments between children and parents. For example, hostile emotional expressions and lack of emotional availability are related to insecure attachment. The quality of emotional relationships has been related to dimensions of parenting pertinent to children’s socialization and personality development (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). Furthermore, reflecting the significance of emotion to relations between parents and children, attachments are fundamentally defined as emotional bonds that endure over space and time (Colin, 1996).

Relational influences on children’s emotional and personality development are also documented in the effects of marital functioning on children’s functioning and development (Cummings & Davies, 1994). In particular, marital conflict— including negative emotional expressions of anger and hostility—may induce significant emotional and behavioral dysregulation in the children. Moreover, consistent with a functionalist perspective on emotions, current theory suggests that children’s emotions serve an appraisal function with regard to children’s responses to marital conflict and serve to organize, guide, and direct children’s reactions (Davies & Cummings, 1994). For example, children who appraise marital conflict as distressing are motivated to intervene, whereas children who make the appraisal that parents will be able to work out conflict have little motivation to mediate in parental disputes (Emery, 1989).

Ultimately, these various relational influences on children’s emotional functioning do not act in isolation, but are likely to have cumulative effects on children’s reactions and behaviors. For example, there is evidence that children’s emotional security—which has implications for children’s emotional regulation capacities and dispositions in the face of stress—is a function of the influence of multiple family systems, including parent-child relations and the marital system (Cummings & Davies, 1996). Thus, in order to more fully understand effects on personality development, understanding relational influences must ultimately move to the level of including multiple sources of family and extrafamilial influence. With regard to the latter, there is increasing emphasis on the role of culture and diversity as potentially significant sources of differences in responding to emotional events in the family and in children’s dispositions towards emotional functioning (Parke & Buriel, 1998).

Normal and Abnormal Emotional and Personality Development: A Developmental Psychopathology Perspective

Finally, although the study of emotional processes as normative influences on development is a relatively recent focus for mainstream developmental research, concern about the implications of disturbances in emotional and personality development can be traced back to Freud and early psychoanalytic theory. In recent years a convergence of emerging themes for process-oriented perspectives on both normal and abnormal development has found articulate expression in research and theory from a developmental psychopathology perspective (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995). The study of new directions toward advanced understanding of abnormal emotional and personality development adds to the richness and breadth of normative models for child development emerging from the investigation of emotional and personality development.

Individual Development of Emotion and Personality

Emotions: Expression, Understanding, and Regulation

This section presents information regarding the development of and individual differences in the emotional system. Topics include emotional expressions and regulation or coping of emotions. In particular, age is examined as a factor in individual differences in emotional functioning. As children’s cognitive and language capacities develop, so too does their emotional system. As is shown in the following discussion, changes occur in children’s emotional expressions and in their awareness of their own and others’ expressions (Denham, 1998; Mascolo & Fischer, 1995); they are also better able to describe the causes and consequences of various emotions (Stein & Levine, 1999). In addition, children become increasingly savvy about how and when to strategically use emotions (e.g., maximizing or minimizing them) in relevant social situations (Saarni, 1998). They are also better able to regulate their emotions and cope with negative feelings associated with social interactions. Even within age periods, however, substantial individual differences between children in their emotional abilities are apparent.

Emotional Expressions: The Emergence of Self-Conscious Emotions

As children leave the toddler phase and enter into the preschool and school-aged periods, a number of changes in theiremotionalexpressionscanbeobserved.Forexample,the expressionofbasicemotions(e.g.,anger,sadness,happiness), which are well documented to emerge in infancy (ZahnWaxler, Cummings, & Cooperman, 1984), starts to become more context-dependent. In peer settings, for example, anger and happiness are expressed more frequently than are sadness or pain and distress (Denham, 1986). In addition, the frequency with which negativity in general is expressed declines with age (Cole, Mischel, & Teti, 1994). Emotional expressions also show more complexity over time. Children’s expressions may show blends of various basic emotions. For example, children engaging in rough-and-tumble play show facial expressions of both anger and happiness (Cole, 1985).

However, perhaps the most significant changes in emotional expressivity emerging during early childhood following the infancy and toddler periods are the development of self-conscious emotions. As children’s sense of self develops, particularly in the second and third years of life, they show emerging emotional reactions of pride, shame, embarrassment, and guilt (e.g., Lewis, Sullivan, Stanger, & Weiss, 1989; Mascolo, & Fischer, 1995). Self-conscious emotions are important to understand, given that such emotions affect intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics and functioning (Barrett, 1998). Furthermore, deficits in self-conscious emotions (e.g., inability to experience guilt or excessive feelings of shame) have clinical implications across the entire life span.

According to differential emotions theory (DET), selfconscious emotions involve an interplay between affective and cognitive processes (Ackerman, Abe, & Izard, 1998)— that is, self-conscious emotions cannot operate without the sense of self, the ability to discriminate the self and other, the ability to sense the self and other as causal agents, and cognitive evaluations or appraisal processes that enable the ability to form comparisons. DET also argues that self-conscious emotions do not have consistent signatures in expressive behaviors over the life span. In a study comparing younger versus older children during a situation in which they fail a task, children younger than 42 months of age were more likely to look away from the experimenter after failing— perhaps indicating their concern with social evaluation from the experimenter. In contrast, older children were twice as likely to pout or frown (Stipek et al., 1992). Stipek and colleagues suspect that in both cases, younger and older children were experiencing shame, but that shame moves from being more externally to more internally based over time.

From a functionalist’s perspective, although selfconscious emotions such as guilt, shame, and embarrassment reflect a more general “feeling-bad-about-performance” category, unique functions characterize each of the negative selfconscious emotions (Barrett, 1998; Denham, 1998). For example, when experiencing guilt, one wishes that one had behaved differently, and one will often seek reparation. When feeling ashamed, on the other hand, the ramifications extend well beyond those of guilt; an offensive self—as well as offensive behavior—is perceived (Denham, 1998). Moreover, feelings of embarrassment result from processes or events different from those involved in the feelings of shame or guilt. Children aged 5 to 8 reported that they would be unlikely to feel embarrassment in the presence of a passive audience, but would feel embarrassment in the presence of a ridiculing audience (Bennett, 1989). Thus, embarrassment— at least during early childhood—appears to result as a function of negative evaluations from others as opposed to the self (Denham, 1998).

Individual differences in the experience and expression of self-conscious emotions as a function of context are also evident. In a study examining 2-year-olds’ responses to playing with an experimenter’s “favorite doll” that breaks during play, some children showed amending responses by trying to resolve the situation, whereas others showed avoidance by averting their gaze (Barrett, Zahn-Waxler, & Cole, 1993). Barrett et al. (1993) concluded that amenders were experiencing feelings of guilt as evidenced by their approaching and attempts for reparation, whereas avoiders were experiencing shame, given that they were withdrawing from the situation. It would be interesting to examine why some children experience guilt and others experience shame even within the same context.

In a study examining gender differences, Stipek et al. (1992) found that girls show more shame and pride compared to boys. This gender difference is interesting, given that girls are more at risk for internalizing disorders, in which feelings of shame and self-loathing are evident. Another interesting gender difference is that shame and guilt are positively correlated for girls but are distinct emotions in boys (Lewis et al., 1992). Whether such gender differences in selfconscious emotions are a result of socialization or of biological differences remains to be found.

Some evidence suggests that temperament in addition to gender is related to self-conscious emotions. In a study of school-aged children (6–7 years), children rated higher in internalizing components of negative affectivity were higher on prosocial characteristics such as the tendency to experience guilt or shame. In addition, children rated higher in effortful control (e.g., impulse control) were found to be more empathic and higher in guilt and shame (Rothbart et al., 1994). Such findings have implications for the ease with which a child can be socialized, as well as the development of the conscience (Kochanska, 1993), given that emotions such as guilt or shame remind individuals to think about rules and standards. Research related to the association between temperament and conscience is described later.

Emotional Understanding

In addition to undergoing changes between infancy and early childhood in emotional experiences and expressions, children become more sophisticated in their understanding of emotions. Young children not only show increasing awareness of theirownemotionalstates,buttheyalsobecomemoreadeptat evaluating and appropriately responding to others’ feelings and expressions. They become able to describe the causes and consequences of various emotions (Stein & Levine, 1999). In addition, children become increasingly knowledgeable about display rules—the social customs for when and to whom certain emotions are appropriate to express.

Much of what we know about children’s understanding of emotions has stemmed from naturalistic research. Dunn and colleagues have frequently reported on observations of children in the family context (e.g., Dunn & Brown, 1994; Youngblade & Dunn, 1995) or peer context (Hughes & Dunn, 1997, 1998) because the “daily lives of young children are full of emotional drama” (p. 230; Dunn, 1999). By age 3, children evidence significant increases in the frequency with which they ask questions about others’ feeling states (Dunn, 1988). Children also appear to learn about emotions in situations in which emotions are being experienced. For example, Dunn and Brown (1994) reported that mothers were more than twice as likely to talk about feelings with their children when the children were expressing distress or anger than when they were expressing happy or neutral states. Moreover, children were more likely to have causal discussion of feelings when they were mildly upset. In addition, Dunn and Brown (1993) found that those children who engaged more frequently in such causal conversations were more advanced in later tests of emotional understanding. In particular, individual differences in children’s understanding of emotions are important to understand because children who have difficulty in identifying emotional expressions and talking about the causes and consequences of emotions have been reported to be less accepted by their peers (Cassidy, Parke, Butkovsky, & Braungart, 1992). It is important to keep in mind that research on children’s understanding of emotions has generally been conducted on children living in cultures in which emotional expression and discussion are accepted and encouraged. Cultural display rules may vary across cultures; thus, findings in this regard may be moderated by culture contexts.

In addition to gaining a better understanding of emotions, children become more aware of cultural display rules as they move from early to later childhood. In a classic study of children’s responses after they received an undesirable gift (e.g., babyish toy), 6-year-olds (especially boys) were openly negative in their expressions, and 8- to 9-year-olds (and younger girls) showed transitional behavior in which their arousal level was apparent (e.g., lip biting), but their negativity was not as openly expressed (Saarni, 1984). Children aged 10–11 (especially girls), however, were most likely to exhibit positive behavior. Thus, older children become better able to mask their true feelings when they understand how their expressions might affect others. Individual differences in display rule use may be pertinent to social competence. Recently, McDowell, O’Neil, and Parke (2000) reported that fourth-grade children—especially girls—who used more appropriate display rules during a disappointment task were rated as more socially competent by both teachers and peers.

Emotion Regulation and Coping With Stressful Situations

AsThompson (1994) has pointed out in a monograph devoted to the topic of emotion regulation, there is surprising diversity in the ways in which different researchers conceptualize emotion regulation. Despite such diversity, most definitions of emotion regulation include aspects surrounding a person’s ability to modulate, control, or reduce the intensive and temporalfeaturesofanemotion(Saarni&Crowly,1990;Saarni& Mumme, 1998; Thompson, 1994; Thompson, 1998). In addition, regulation can occur at the neurophysiological, hormonal, attentional, and behavioral levels (Calkins, 1994; Fox, 1994; Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981; Stansbury & Gunnar, 1994; Thompson, 1994).

The term coping has sometimes been used interchangeably with emotion regulation (Brenner & Salovey, 1997), especially to the extent that effective coping is inseparable from effective emotion regulation and vice versa (Saarni, 1999). In addition, the term self-regulation has sometimes been used to mean emotion regulation. Self-regulation, however, may be a broader term that includes the ability to manage not only one’s emotions but also one’s thoughts and actions in adaptive and flexibleways(Kopp,1982).AsSaarni(1999)recentlypointed out, however, self- and emotion regulation seem to be highly related, especially in Western cultures. It is not as clear whether self- and emotion regulation would be intertwined in non-Western societies.

Several researchers have recently attempted to examine the ways in which children attempt to regulate their emotions and cope with stressful situations. Saarni (1997) interviewed children aged 6–8 and 10–12 about the types of strategies that children would use during various stressful situations. The strategies that emerged, with the most adaptive strategy listed first and the least adaptive listed last, were problem solving (attempting to change the situation), support seeking from caregivers or peers (either for seeking solace or help), distancing-avoidance, internalizing, and antisocial behaviors (i.e., externalizing).

Rossman (1992) developed a questionnaire to assess the coping strategies of 6- to 12-year-old children from a diverse sample (children from a university subject pool, those from a battered women’s shelter, and those experiencing incest). Children were asked to describe what they did when attempting to feel better and the degree to which they felt that a particular strategy enabled them to effectively reduce negative feelings. Similar to Saarni’s (1997) findings, the following factors emerged: use of caregivers, solitary distractionavoidance, seeking out peers, self-calming behaviors (e.g., taking lots of deep breaths), and distressed-externalizing behaviors (e.g., “it helps to get in a fight or hit someone”). Interesting age and gender effects also emerged from this study: girls were more likely than boys to rely on others (caregivers and peers), and younger children were more likely to rely on caregivers, distraction, and self-calming strategies than were older children. Somewhat surprisingly, age-by-gender effects also indicated that boys were more likely to report using distressed-externalizing techniques than were girls at younger ages, but this pattern reversed for the older ages. Rossman (1992) also examined the degree to which the various coping strategies predicted children’s perceptions of self-worth. After controlling for age and gender, Rossman found that seeking help from caregivers and self-calming strategies were positively associated with self-worth, whereas distress-externalizing techniques were negatively related to self-worth. Thus, similar to Saarni’s (1997) rank ordering, strategies involving either the self-reliance or seeking help from others were more adaptive than were those involving antisocial behaviors. Such externalizing behaviors may actually reflect the lack of managing one’s emotions.

Whether certain styles of coping are more adaptive than others may also depend on other factors. In a sample of preschool-aged children, Eisenberg et al. (1993) found that gender was a salient moderator of the effect of coping strategy and social competence. More specifically, greater social competence of boys (but not that of girls) could be predicted by their display of adaptive strategies such as problem solving. Somewhat differently, greater social competence of girls could be predicted from their use of avoidant coping strategies. For both boys and girls, however, high emotional intensity was associated with lower levels of constructive coping and attentional control. In turn, children who showed excessive negative emotionality were regarded by adults as less mature and by their peers as less attractive as playmates. Thus, even by the preschool period, children who are able to manage their negativity in a more adaptive manner seem to fare better socially.

According to Kopp (1989), caregivers play a crucial role in serving as an external support system for the regulation of emotions—particularly when children are very young (i.e., during infancy). As children’s cognitive development becomes more sophisticated, changes in the emotion regulation system can be observed. During the second year of life, toddlers begin to develop a more sophisticated sense of the self, as well as the ability to understand causes of distress (Kopp, 1989). Such changes suggest that toddlers become aware of their own distress and begin to realize that their own behavior can help alleviate negative feelings. In a study involving several emotionally laden situations, Grolnick, Bridges, and Connell (1996) found that 2-year-olds most frequently dealt with their distress by using active engagement with substitute objects, regardless of the context of the situation (delay of gratification vs. maternal separations). In addition, toddlers who used more active engagement were less distressed than were those who used other types of strategies (e.g., focusing on the forbidden toy). Thus, focusing ones’ attention away from a task appears to help minimize negativity. Furthermore, classic studies by Mischel (e.g., 1974) have demonstrated that children who orient their attention away from a forbidden object are better able to delay their gratification, thus facilitating behavioral control as well as emotion regulation.

However, as Saarni (1999) recently pointed out, we do not have a systematic empirical literature that tells us what coping strategies tend to emerge at what age, especially given that studies differ substantially on sample and contextual characteristics. Two general patterns have emerged, however: (a) As children get older, they can generate more coping alternatives; and (b) older children are better able to make use of cognitively oriented coping strategies for situations in which they have no control (e.g., Compas, Malcarne, & Fondacaro, 1988).

Although age is one factor related to children’s differences in emotion regulation and coping, other factors appear to be important as well. Explaining individual differences in emotion regulation is an important challenge to undertake because older children who appear to have difficulties in managing emotions (e.g., anger) are at risk for developing behavioral disorders (Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994; Dodge & Garber, 1991). Although psychopathological outcomes may represent extreme deficits in emotion regulation, less than optimal outcomes may also occur for children who struggle with regulating emotions. For example, Calkins (1994) has speculated that children who have trouble managing anger may have difficulties in establishing positive peer relationships.

It has been suggested that parenting contributes a great deal to children’s ability to regulate their emotions (Eisenberg et al., 1998). For example, in a study of 9- to 10-year-olds’ coping strategies for everyday stressful situations, Hardy, Power, and Jaedicke (1993) found that mothers who were more supportive in moderately low-structured homes had children who generated more coping strategies across situations. In addition, supportive mothers also had children who used fewer aggressive coping strategies and more avoidant coping strategies when children perceive the stressor as uncontrollable. Thus, parenting appears to affect both the breadth and manner in which coping is exhibited.

Temperament and Personality

In this section, we provide definitions of temperament and personality and review recent work related to the structure of each, as well as associations between temperament and personality. In addition, we examine recent research related to biological foundations of temperament and personality, as well as its links with social outcomes.


Much of the early work on temperament during childhood stemmed from Thomas, Chess, and colleagues’ (1963; 1977) seminal studies involving the New York Longitudinal Study (NYLS). At that time, researchers and clinicians were acknowledging the importance of infants’ and children’s own contributions to their development and the possibility that socialization effects were bidirectional rather than stemming solely from parents to children (Bell, 1968). Current theory proposes that temperament is a component of the more general domain of personality and involves individual differences in basic psychological processes such as emotionality, activity, and attention that are relatively stable over situations and time (Goldsmith et al., 1987; Rothbart & Bates, 1998; Thompson, 1999). Although not all temperament researchers have agreed on the specific dimensions that comprise temperament, there is a general consensus that temperament arises at least in part from hereditary differences—and that temperament influences and is influenced by experience (Rothbart, Ahadi, & Evans, 2000).

By contrast, current work proposes that personality encompasses much more than temperament does—and that it includes skills, habits, values, perceptions of the self, and the relation of the self to others and events (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Those significant others who provide physical and emotional support, care, and security are believed to help shape personality (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Furthermore, personality is influenced by broader social experiences involving neighborhood, school, and community contexts (Eccles & Roeser, 1999), as well as children’s emerging morality, conscience, and gender identity (Turiel, 1998). Likewise, personality influences how experiences are construed and interpreted and the choices that a person might make (Thompson, 1999). Thus, similar to temperament, personality is influenced by and influences experiences over time. Moreover, some investigators have proposed that temperament might be viewed as early-appearing personality characteristics. Thus, the conceptual borders between temperament and personality as individual difference constructs are to some extent blurred. Despite the conceptual overlap between temperament and personality, however, empirical investigations involving both domains are quite sparse (see Caspi, 1998, for a recent review).


Compared to the structure of temperament during infancy, it seems that temperament during childhood involves fewer dimensions (Rothbart & Bates, 1998), especially if one considers temperament and personality to be organized hierarchically with broad traits (e.g., extroversion) representing the most general dimensions and lower levels including the more specific traits (e.g., energetic). Based on factor analyses of maternal report data on items from the NYLS for 3- to 8-year-olds, three higher-order factors were found: Negative Emotionality, Self-Regulation, and Sociability (Sanson, Smart, Prior, Oberklaid, & Pedlow, 1994). Similarly, Rothbart’s Childhood Behavior Questionnaire (which was developed in relation to infant and toddler versions), which is used for children aged 3–8, consistently yields three broad temperament factors (Rothbart, Ahadi, & Hershey, 1994). The first factor is Surgency, which includes approach, high-intensity pleasure, activity level, and shyness (reversed). The second factor, Negative Affectivity, consists of discomfort, fear, anger-frustration, sadness, and soothability (reversed). The third factor has been labeled Effortful Control, and includes scales related to inhibitory control, attentional focusing, low-intensity pleasure, and perceptual sensitivity. Interestingly, the three dimensions from both Sanson et al.’s (1994) and Rothbart et al.’s (1994) research resemble adult personality structures such as the Big Three (Tellegen, 1985)—Extroversion (Sociability and Surgency), Neuroticism (Negative Emotionality and Negative Affectivity), and Constraint (Self-Regulation and Effortful Control). Other child temperament-personality researchers have generally found support for five factors that are equivalent to the adult Big Five (see Halverson, Kohnstamm, & Martin’s 1994 book for an extensive review). Thus, in addition to Extroversion, Neuroticism, and Conscientiousness (similar to Constraint), there is also Agreeableness and Openness. Such a structure has been found in child personality research despite differences in sampling and methodology (Caspi, 1998).

Although most theorists have conceptualized and measured temperament or personality on quantitative dimensions, some have argued for a categorical approach. By placing children into categories or typologies, one is able to take an ipsative, or a person-centered approach to understanding the child (Caspi & Silva, 1995). More typically, however, temperament and personality researchers have used a variable-centered approach, which involves the examination of multiple factors or dimensions, but each dimension is examined separately. In the end, both approaches may be useful. Categories or typologies are helpful because they suggest that a particular constellation of dimensions are greater than the sum of their parts, so to speak. Indeed, Thomas and Chess’s (1977) original approach to temperament included both dimensional ratings (e.g., approach-withdrawal) and categorical aspects (e.g., difficult child).

As pointed out by Aksan et al. (1999), however, one difficultywithusinggroupingtechniquesisdecidingwhattodo about cases that are ambiguous. If children are forced into a classification, within-group heterogeneity can be high (even if between-groupdifferencesarehigh).Thus,usingtherestriction that heterogeneity is minimal, Aksan et al. (1999) found that two typologies emerged for preschool-aged children: controlled-nonexpressive and noncontrolled expressive. Although these two types show overlap with previous typology work, only 15% of the children satisfied both between-category distinctiveness and within-category homogeneity criteria. Thus, categorical approaches may be helpful in capturing children’s general dispositional styles, but also may be limited if within categories, children show wide variability.

Links Between Early Temperament and Later Personality

Despite the limitations of dimensional or categorical approaches, there has been some evidence that temperament and personality are related. However, it is also important to note that the amount of research to date that has examined the stability between temperament over time or between early temperament and later personality is still quite sparse (Caspi, 1998). Challenging questions pertaining to major developmental issues may prevent a simple examination of the stability between early and later dispositional styles. As pointed out by Thompson (1999), for example, can the same temperamental attribute be measured at different ages using ageappropriate measures? Just because we assign the same label to a dimension (e.g., Activity) at two ages, do we necessarily examine the same behaviors at both times or do we expect that there are qualitative changes in how a “trait” is expressed? In the following discussion, we highlight several studies that have examined stability in early temperament and later temperament or stability in early temperament and later personality. See also Caspi (1998), Rothbart and Bates (1998), and Thompson (1999) for more extensive reviews.

Using categorical approaches, Kagan, Resnick, and Gibbons (1989) found that toddlers who were selected at 14 and 20 months because they were highly inhibited were found to be more cautious and fearful at age 4. In a long-term longitudinal study, Caspi and Silva (1995) found significant associations between 3-year temperament groups and 15- to 18-year personality: Young children who were temperamentally undercontrolled were more likely to show higher levels of aggression, danger seeking, and impulsivity during adolescence. Inhibited children at age 3, on the other hand, were more likely to be rated as cautious and restrained during adolescence.

Studies relying on quantitative dimensions have found modest levels of stability over time. For example, Rothbart, Derryberry, and Hershey (2000) found modest stability between infant temperament and 7-year temperament for certain dimensions and a lack of stability for others. In brief, frustration-anger, fear, and approach showed significant stability over time, but activity and smiling-laughter did not. Rothbart et al. (2000) makes an interesting conclusion that those dimensions showing significant stability are considered to reflect the more psychobiologically rooted dimensions.

Recently, Goldsmith, Lemery, Aksan, and Buss (2000) used both dimensional and categorical approaches in the study of stability of childhood temperament from age 4 to 7. They found evidence for moderate stability (and some change), regardless of how temperament was measured. Children rated by their mothers as higher in fearfulness, anger, positive affect, and emotion regulation at age 4 were rated higher relative to their peers at age 7 on these dimensions (rs ranged from .55 to .77; Goldsmith et al., 2000). Based on behaviors in the lab, children rated as Bold, Intermediate, or Shy at age 4 generally were found to show consistent group classification at age 7. One interesting result, however, was that greater stability in classification was found for the Bold group, suggesting that the Intermediate and Shy groups were more susceptible to change (Goldsmith et al., 2000).

Psychobiological Links With Temperament and Personality

Recent research involving childhood temperament has been examining the extent to which biological indexes map onto temperament characteristics. Studies that apply a psychobiological approach to temperament basically find converging evidence that temperamental attributes are rooted at least in part in biological bases. This convergence occurs despite the wide variety of methods applied and markers examined as potential indicators (Goldsmith et al., 2000). Behavioral genetics is a methodology that examines the extent to which temperament and personality attributes show heritability. Other research has relied more on direct physiological markers. The most common indexes that are used include heart rate and heart rate variability, cortisol, and brain activity as measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG). Several studies of child emotionality have also examined skin conductance.

Behavioral Genetics. Behavioral genetic approaches seek to determine the degree to which individual differences in temperamental or personality characteristics are related to both heritability and environmentality (see Caspi, 1998, and Goldsmith, Buss, & Lemery, 1997, for the most recent reviews of behavioral genetic research on temperament and personality during childhood). In short, behavioral genetic methods compare the degree to which family members’ characteristics show resemblance and whether the amount of similarity varies as a function of genetic relatedness.

In general, most temperamental characteristics show some degree of heritability (e.g., around 40%), as well as nonshared environmental effects (e.g., those experiences that make family members different; Daniels & Plomin, 1985), in spite of whether samples involved twins or adoptive siblings, or whether the temperament measure was based on parent ratings or lab observations. We find it interesting, however, that several studies have found an exception to this general pattern. Factors involving positive affect and approach (Plomin et al., 1993)—as well as effortful control (Goldsmith et al., 1997)—have significant effects due to the shared family environment. Such findings suggest that future research should examine what specific types of shared family experiences promote (or impede) the development of positive affect and effortful control. Behavioral genetic findings on heritability also indicate that future research should examine the specific physiological mechanisms that link genotype with phenotype—that is, for traits showing substantial heritability, how do gene systems eventually become manifested in behavior? And what are the environmental conditions that might moderate such biological influences?

Cortisol. Cortisol is the primary product of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system (HPA)—a major stress-sensitive system (Palkovitz, 1987). Under conditions of stress, basal regulation of the HPA system is overridden, causing elevated levels of cortisol. At one time, it was predicted that elevated cortisol levels would be higher for inhibited children compared with uninhibited children (Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1987). However, elevated cortisol levels have not been consistently found among behaviorally inhibited children (Tennes & Kreye, 1985). For example, Nachmias et al. (1996) found elevated cortisol levels during novel situations if toddlers were behaviorally inhibited and in an insecure parent-child attachment relationship. It is possible that securely attached inhibited children are better able to rely on their attachment figure, have effective emotionalregulatory skills, or both—any of which could then buffer the stress response. Moreover, Gunnar (1994) has argued that behavioral inhibition may actually reduce the likelihood of an HPA stress response in certain novel situations—that is, behavioral inhibition may serve as a coping response that reduces the child’s engagement with overly arousing and unpredictable events. Indeed, a recent study by deHaan, Gunnar, Tout, Hart, and Stansbury (1998) seems to suggest that although cortisol levels were elevated for children showing shy, anxious, and internalizing behavior in the home setting, higher cortisol responses in a new preschool context were associated with aggressive, angry, and assertive styles of behavior. Thus, HPA responses are complex and may reflect not only certain temperamental attributes, but also the context within which the child is examined.

Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability. Studies examining relations between heart rate and temperament have been fairly consistent; there has been some disagreement, however, about the interpretation of findings. In a study by Kagan et al. (1987) in which inhibited children showed higher resting heart rates, as well as less variable heart rate patterns, Kagan concluded that such patterns reflected the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Porges (1992) has argued, however, that cardiac activity in response to novel situations reflects activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). He has suggested that the increased and less variable heart rate patterns of inhibited children might reflect PNS withdrawal—and thus low vagal tone. Studies examining vagal tone (e.g., as indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia; RSA) have shown that increased baseline RSA and greater suppression of RSA following a stressor is generally associated with more positive temperamental characteristics (see Porges & Doussard-Roosevelt, 1997, for a review).

Electroencephalogram (EEG). Fox and Davidson (1984) proposed that the left and right hemispheres were specialized: Activation in the left hemisphere would be associated with positive affect and approach, whereas activation in the right hemisphere would be related to negative affect and avoidance. Some empirical support has been found— particularly with infants, but also with children. For example, Fox, Calkins, and Bell (1994) showed that infants 9–24 months of age with stable right frontal EEG asymmetry exhibited more fearfulness and inhibition to laboratory situations. Similarly, at age 4, children showing right frontal asymmetry also expressed more reticence and social withdrawal.

Skin Conductance. In a study of children in kindergarten and the second grade, Fabes et al. (1994) found a positive correlation at both ages between facial distress (when watching films of children being hurt in an accident) and skin conductance. In addition, skin conductance was inversely related to prosocial behaviors, suggesting that high skin conductance was reflective of a dysregulated state. In a similar study of somewhat older children (third- and sixth-graders), skin conductance was positively related to facial distress and negatively related to mothers’ reports of general helpfulness (but only for girls; Fabes et al., 1993).

Early Temperament and Personality and Later Social Outcomes

Much of the work focusing on outcomes of temperament has concentrated on children’s adjustment—such as internalizing and externalizing problems and conduct disorders— and other areas of developmental psychopathology (see Rothbart & Bates, 1998, for a review). In this section, we provide a brief overview of the research on long-term predictions of temperament and later adjustment. In addition, other, less widely studied areas—but nonetheless exciting research topics—are covered. More specifically, new research examining temperament’s prediction to the development of the conscience, as well as its prediction to peer status, will be covered.

Behavioral Adjustment

Rothbart, Posner, and Hershey (1995) have discussed several ways in which temperament would relate to later adjustment: directly, indirectly, or by moderated linkages (e.g., temperament X environment interactions). Much of the work on temperament and behavioral adjustment has focused on direct linkages, in which a particular trait is associated with the development of an adjustment pattern (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). For example, in the Bloomington Longitudinal Study, infants and toddlers rated high on difficultness (high in frequency and intensity of negative affect) had more externalizing and internalizing problems in the preschool through middle-childhood periods (Bates & Bayles, 1988; Bates et al., 1991).

Temperament might also affect the development of later adjustment in an indirect manner. A child’s temperament might elicit certain parenting behaviors, which in turn affect the child’s development; in this case, a child’s temperament is evoking certain responses from the environment (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Alternatively, a child’s temperament might predispose him or her to seek out certain experiences. In this case, a child is playing a more active role in creating (or niche-picking) his or her environment (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). There is some empirical support for indirect effects of temperament, although it should be noted that relatively few studies have examined indirect effects. In addition, several studies have found that models testing for direct effects fit better than do those including indirect effects (e.g., McClowry et al., 1992). One recent study, however, examining complex relations among concurrent temperament, externalizing problems, social factors, and drug use in sixthgraders, found significant mediation (Wills, Windle, & Cleary, 1998)—that is, higher activity level and negative emotionality predicted more drug use. Furthermore, externalizing adjustment problems mediated the link between temperament and drug use. Finally, associations between externalizing problems and drug use were mediated by negative life events and by having friends who used drugs.

Temperament might also interact with environmental characteristics. For example, goodness-of-fit models suggest that it is not the child’s temperament that will determine later behavioral problems; rather, how that child’s temperament fits with his or her environment will affect the development of behavioral outcomes (Thomas & Chess, 1981). Again, however, relatively few studies test these ideas empirically. Moreover, many of the studies examining temperament-environment interactions have not controlled for main effects (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). One study that did examine main effects in conjunction with interaction effects, however, found modest support for temperament X environment effects. Hagekull and Bohlin (1995) found that toddlers who were rated as temperamentally easy and who were in higher-quality child care were less aggressive at age 4 than were easy children in lower-quality care. In contrast, difficult children’s aggressiveness was not influenced by quality of care.


Kochanska (1993) proposed two temperamental factors likely to be associated with the development of conscience: the child’s proneness to distress and inhibitory control. Children prone to distress—particularly fear—may be afraid to commit a wrongful act. In addition, children with high inhibitory control may have an easier time preventing or “putting the brakes on” a behavior that violates rules. In addition, children with low fear, inhibitory control, or both may be harder to socialize. Kochanska found that for highly fearful children, maternal compliance strategies that de-emphasize power are correlated with child compliance— not only concurrently at 3.5 years, but also a year later (Kochanska, 1997).

In a study involving 2.5-year-olds, children rated by their mothers as higher in temperamental negative reactivity were more likely to show noncompliant behavior in the lab (refusing to clean up toys and touching a prohibited objected). Moreover, mothers of more negatively reactive children used more power-assertive methods as a means of controlling their children (Braungart-Rieker, Garwood, & Stifter, 1997). Thus, negative reactivity appears to affect parent behavior as well as children’s internalized control abilities.

Peer Status

There are numerous reasons to expect that temperament would predict peer status, especially given that temperament is related to behavioral adjustment (e.g., Bates et al., 1985); in turn, antisocial and prosocial behaviors are related to peer acceptance (e.g., Coie, Dodge, & Kupersmidt, 1990). Surprisingly, however, there is relatively little research examining the extent to which temperament directly or indirectly relates to peer relationships (Maszk, Eisenberg, & Guthrie, 1999). There is some evidence, for example, that the ability to regulate emotions or manage anger contributes to peer sociometric status (Hubbard & Coie, 1994). Children who can regulate their arousal engage in fewer aggressive interactions with peers (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1996). In a recent short-term longitudinal study that controlled for earlier peer status, Maszk et al. found that children aged 4 to 6 years of age who were higher in emotional intensity and lower in regulation (as reported by teachers) were rated as more popular by their peers. An interesting result was that earlier levels of social status did not predict later emotionality or regulation (Maszk et al., 1999).

In summary, research and theory supports the importance to children’s socioemotional development of individual differences between children in emotional expression and regulation and the role of emotional processes in broader organizations of temperament and personality. The construct of emotion regulation offers particularly exciting promise for future advances, especially as understood in relation to temperament and personality development. However, more work is needed to further clarify the definitions of these constructs, their interrelations with each other over time and context, and the biological, experiential, and psychological processes that underlie the significance of these constructs to the individual’s development in childhood. Moreover, these dimensions of functioning do not operate in isolation from children’s social contexts; it is to the matter of the role of social context that we next turn.

Relational Influences on Emotion and Personality Development

The family is clearly the most important relational influence on children’s emotionality and emotional development (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). Accordingly, this section focuses on family as a source of relational influences. Traditional research has emphasized the importance of the parent-child subsystem for children’s emotional functioning, often to the exclusion of the study of possible effects of other family subsystems. The parent-child subsystem is certainly the most significant single category of family influence on child development. However, the emotional qualities of the marital subsystem in particular may also have pervasive implications for the emotional quality of children’s lives, as well as overall emotionality of family functioning (Cowan & Cowan, 2002; Cummings, 1998). In order to more fully account for relational influences on children’s emotional and personality development, a familywide perspective is needed thatgoesbeyondconsideringonlytheparent-childsubsystem. Moreover, one cannot assume that relations found in one cultural context (e.g., race, ethnicity) will necessarily be found for others (Parke & Buriel, 1998)—that is, culture may moderate relations between children’s emotional expressions, experiences, and personality development. Accordingly, the importance of appreciating and examining contextual influences on emotionality as a function of culture is indicated.

Accordingly, this research paper examines a variety of relational influences within the family on children’s emotional and personality development, including factors associated with the parent-child relationship, the marital relationship, familywide functioning, and cultural contexts. Given their importance to a consideration of family influences, cultural influences as elements of relational influences are also examined. Although other factors (e.g., peers, schools; Crick & Dodge, 1994) also undoubtedly affect children’s early emotional and personality development, a consideration of these additional influences is beyond what can be attempted in this relatively brief treatment.

Parent-Child Relationships

This section is concerned with parental emotional influences on children’s development. Children have some of their first experiences with internal affective states, including anger, fear, anxiety, and happiness, in the context of their relationships with their parents. Moreover, the quality and intensity of children’s emotional experiences are affected by the quality of their relationships with their parents. Parents may be highly influential—especially for young children—in children’s regulation of their affect (Kopp, 1982; 1989). Chronic experience with enduring and intense negative emotions can be excessively challenging to the capacities of young children to regulate their emotions, and children with less-thansecure relationships with parents may have more frequent and difficult experiences with fluctuating and unpredictable affective states.

Emotionality is also a significant dimension of parentchild interactions and relationships, including parenting as acceptance, emotional availability, sensitivity, and parentchild emotional bond or attachment (i.e., emotional relationship; Barber, 1997; Cummings & Davies, 1995). Dimensions of parent-child relations pertaining to the emotionality of parenting, parenting styles, and the quality of the parentchild emotional relationship have been found to have substantial implications for children’s emotional and personality development.

Emotional Dimensions of Parenting: Parental Acceptance and Emotional Availability

The terms acceptance and emotional availability have been used to describe a relatively diverse set of behaviors pertaining to the emotional quality of relations between parents and children (e.g., parental support, expressions of warmth or positive emotional tone, sensitivity to children’s psychological states) that nonetheless share common ground—relations with demonstrated implications for children’s emotional and personality development. Parental acceptance and responsiveness have been shown to predict positive child development outcomes, including greater sociability, self-regulation, prosocial behavior, self-esteem, and constructive play. In contrast, parental behaviors indicative of a lack of responsivity or availability have been prospectively linked with a variety of maladaptive outcomes, including social withdrawal, aggression, and attention deficit disorder (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

Emotional mediators within the child are implicated in the effects of parental emotionality on children’s functioning. Observing interactional bouts between parents and children provides one method for understanding the processes that parenting practices induce in children. For example, parental withdrawal and unresponsiveness have been shown to elicit infant protest, distress, and wariness, and children commonly react to parental intrusiveness and hostility by withdrawing and disengaging (Cohn & Tronick, 1989).

As another example of the role of children’s emotionality in responding to emotional qualities of parenting, Parke, Cassidy, Burks, Carson, and Boyum (1992) have proposed that various affect management skills of the child mediate relations between parenting style and children’s developmental functioning. Specifically, styles of parenting (e.g., stimulation, responsiveness) are seen to influence children’s emotion regulation, interpersonal information processing (e.g., encoding, decoding) in social-emotional contexts, and understanding of emotion (e.g., ability to recognize and produce emotional expressions, understanding of the causes and meaningofemotion,understandingone’sownhistoryofemotional experiences and others’emotional displays)—which in turn affects children’s ability to function competently in other interpersonal contexts (e.g., with peers, in friendship groups).

Thus, to elaborate on one pathway, emotionally negative parenting may foster children’s negative attribution styles about parent-child relations, with subsequent effects on children’s processing of peer events and relationships. Proclivities toward hostile evaluations and response tendencies in turn may increase children’s susceptibility to poor peer relationships, aggression, social isolation, and depression (Crick & Dodge, 1994). On the other hand, parental availability may promote children’s capacities for interpersonal connectedness, fostering a general view of the social world as a safe, secure place, and equipping children with the social skills necessary to advance the quality of their relationships with others (Barber, 1997).

Notably, as other examples of relations between parenting and children’s emotionality, parental responses to children’s emotional expressions may affect children’s emotional and social functioning. Fabes, Eisenberg, and Murphy (1996) have hypothesized that children display the most constructive ways of regulating and expressing negative emotion when parents show moderate (rather than high or low) encouragement of emotional expression. However, parental encouragement of emotional expression is only one of the ways in which parents respond to their children’s emotions that influence children’s functioning. Additional dimensions, such as parental distress, dismissing children’s emotions, comforting, and encouraging and helping children to solve distressing problems may also have implications for children’s emotional and personality development (Eisenberg, 1996; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1994).

Emotional Dimensions of Parenting and Parenting Styles

Another level of conceptualization of parenting that has had implications in children’s emotional and personality development are parenting styles. Baumrind (1967, 1971) proposed that the effectiveness of parenting styles for children’s personality development reflects both the quality of the parentchild emotional relationships (e.g., responsiveness, warmth, availability) and parental control (e.g., demandingness, monitoring, consistent discipline). Working from these assumptions, Baumrind distinguished between three qualitatively different types of parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting styles), each with emotional elements and with implications for children’s emotional and personality development.

Authoritative parents utilize firm, consistent control, centered around integrating the child into the family and society and insisting that the child meet increasing standards of maturity as he or she gets older. Communication styles with children are characterized by warmth, clarity, reciprocality, and verbal give and take between parent and child. Children of authoritative parents are most likely to exhibit a healthy balance between high levels of agency (i.e., achievementoriented, high self-esteem, independent) and communion (i.e., sociable, interpersonally cooperative, friendly).

Authoritarian parents are also firm in their control practices. However, their control strategies differ qualitatively from those of authoritative parents. Strict, unquestioned obedience to parental authority is expected, with any assertion of individuality by the child met with swift and severe punishment. Furthermore, authoritarian parents evidence detachment and lack of warmth. These children are at greater risk for internalizing symptoms, self-devaluation, social submissiveness, low self-efficacy, and diminished autonomy (Baumrind, 1967, 1971, 1991).

Permissive parents evidence high acceptance, associated with frequent expressions of warmth and affection by parents; there is also low enforcement of rules and authority. This laxness in monitoring and discipline means that children are left to regulate their own behavior and make decisions concerning their own actions (e.g., bedtime, meals; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Accordingly, children of permissive parents exhibit high levels of self-worth and self-esteem, but exhibit impairments in maturity, impulse control, social responsibility, and achievement.

Extending Baumrind’s work, Maccoby and Martin (1983) proposed that parenting styles can be defined in terms of two parenting characteristics ordered along linear continuums: (a) demandingness and (b) responsiveness. Four parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, indifferentuninvolved) emerged from the crossing of these two dimensions, with the first three similar to Baumrind’s authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent. The last style was characterized by emotional uninvolvement with the child. For this parenting style, interactions with the children are considered an inconvenience and are dealt with in the way that most quickly and effortlessly terminates the interaction. This style predicts the most maladaptive outcomes of the various parenting styles, including low levels of social and academic competence— and also delinquency, alcohol problems, and drug use (Baumrind, 1991; Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989).

Parent-Child Attachment: Emotional Bonds Between Parents and Children

The effects of parental behavior on children’s adjustment are more than a matter of the behaviors that parents direct towards their children or even the emotional intensity of interactions or parenting behavior; rather, they reflect the underlying emotional quality of the relationship between parents and children—that is, interactions between parents and children are influenced by the emotional bond or attachment that has formed between the parent and child. Thus, in deciding how to behave, children not only respond simply to the behaviors directed at them by parents, but also respond as a function of the their emotional relationships with parents.

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s attachment theory provides the most influential conceptualization of the nature of the emotional bonds between parents and children (Bowlby, 1969; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Moreover, the attachment theory tradition provides considerable empirical support for the significance of attachments to children’s (and adults’) adjustment (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999), although variability in the stability of attachment over time—and in the prediction of later behavior based upon earlier attachment—is evident in the literature (Belsky, Campbell, Cohn, & Moore, 1996; Thompson, 2000).

Parent-Child Attachment Patterns: Secure Versus Insecure Emotional Relationships

Attachment as parenting is neither defined as simply a set of behaviors that are observable at a microscopic level of analysis, nor is it defined as a global trait. Rather, attachment is an organizational construct—that is, goals or plans that serve to organize and motivate behavior that emerges from the functioning of the attachment behavioral system. Moreover, this system functions in a manner that is highly sensitive to context, including the past history of the relationship (e.g., the perceived availability and sensitive responsiveness of the parent) and the circumstances of the immediate situation (e.g., the appraisal of threat).

Attachment is a life-span construct, and a variety of methodologies have been derived to assess attachment security across the life span (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999). At all ages, however, security of attachment is held to have implications for the individual’s emotional regulation and emotional functioning, with corresponding implications for personality development.

In infancy and early childhood, individual differences in patterns of attachment security are assessed based on the Strange Situation (Ainsworth et al., 1978), which consists of a sequence of brief contexts for observing the children’s functioning—most notably, functioning in relation to the parent’s presence, absence, and return. Children’s attachment securities are classified to distinguish parent-child relationships in terms of the infant’s relative effectiveness in deriving security from the parent in these various contexts and the parent’s effectiveness in providing security.

The organization of children with secure attachments reflects optimal use of the attachment figure as a secure base and as support in the context of the attachment relationship. The child thus demonstrates a coherent strategy for using the parent as a source of security. For example, upon the return of the parent after separation, the recovery from an overly aroused or distressed state due to separation from the parent is smooth and readily carried to completion—that is, after making connection with the parent, the child rather quickly returns to a nondistressed state and to exploration or play. This pattern is associated with greater responsivity and warmth by the parents towards the children in the home.

The behavioral pattern exhibited by children with avoidant attachments indicates less-than-optimal secure base use and secure base support in the context of the attachment relationship. Thus, upon reunion the child conspicuously avoids proximity or contact with the parent. Avoidant infants are not responsive to parental attempts at interaction, may quite demonstratively turn away or look away from the parent and fail to proactively initiate interaction with the parents. These children are more fussy and readily distressed by separation in the home, and may have more difficulty with arousal control at a physiological level in the Strange Situation. Parents of avoidant children are more rejecting, tense, irritable, and avoidant of close bodily contact towards the children in dayto-day interaction in the home; they may also be more intrusive and overstimulating (Belsky, Rovine, & Taylor, 1984), thereby fostering less confidence in the child about the parents as a reliable source of security.

The organization of anxious, resistant attachment also reflects relatively ineffective use of the parent as a source of security in times of stress—and reflects the particular strategy of extreme dependence. Prior to separation, these infants are often clingy and uninterested in toys. Upon reunion, resistant children may mix angry behavior (e.g., struggling when held, stiffness, hitting or pushing away) with excessive contact and proximity seeking. Children are not readily reassured by the parents’ presence or comforting (e.g., continued fussing and crying), and have considerable difficulty settling and returning to well-regulated emotional functioning. These attachment patterns are also associated with problematic histories of parent-child interaction in the home, including parenting that is relatively inept or inconsistent.

Emotional Dimensions of Parenting and Attachment Security

Attachment research provides evidence for the role of emotional dimensions of parenting practices, in particular, in the formation of attachment relationships. Bowlby’s theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973) proposed the importance of the parent’s emotional availability and responsiveness for the development of secure attachments. The work of Ainsworth et al. (1978) provided empirical support for the pertinence of sensitivity, accessibility, acceptance, and cooperation as parenting behaviors relevant to the development of security of attachments to the parents.

A core prediction of attachment theory from its initial formulation thus was that the child’s sense of emotional security would derive from the responsiveness, warmth, and emotional availability of the parent. Maternal sensitivity was particularly emphasized and defined by Ainsworth as the parent’s ability to accurately perceive the child’s signals and to respond appropriately and promptly. Although the size of the relations reported in Ainsworth’s pioneering Baltimore study were particularly strong, dozens of published studies have reported that constructs reflecting maternal sensitivity and emotional availability or related constructs significantly predicted the quality of attachment. A meta-analysis suggests that the support for this relation is much more than convincing from a statistical perspective (De Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997). Attachment security is also predicted from parent’s emotional availability as seen from a relational perspective (i.e., maternal structuring, maternal sensitivity, child responsiveness, child involvement; Easterbrooks, Biesecker, & Lyons-Ruth, 2000).

A Functionalist Perspective on Emotion Regulation, Attachment, and Personality Development

The attachment behavioral system has been hypothesized as organized and directed by children’s appraisals of their felt security in specific social situations and contexts (Sroufe & Waters, 1977). Thus, children’s emotions are viewed as an aspect of their appraisals of their emotional well-being or felt security in specific contexts, also serving to guide and direct their behavioral responding—for example, their decisions about whether to seek proximity of contact with parents.

Bowlby emphasized the role of self-regulatory processes in the impact of parenting on children’s emotional and personality development, including children’s emotional and cognitive appraisals of situational and contextual challenges and threats as influencing children’s emotional and behavioral responding. In particular, emotional reactions reflecting children’s evaluations of events were conceptualized as playing a role in children’s organization and motivation of their responses to these events, a point made by Bowlby and subsequently expanded by later theorists (Carlson & Sroufe, 1995; Sroufe & Waters, 1977). Over time, these emotionally based self-regulatory patterns, which reflected the relative security or insecurity afforded by their experiential histories with parents in multiple situations, were seen as characterizing their functioning in response to current experiences. Thus, such responses were one class of processes derived from day-to-day experiences with the parents; over time, these responses served to mediate relations between experiential history and child outcomes—that is, these processes reflected internal self-regulatory structures derived from experience that served to guide current responding. Carlson and Sroufe (1995) articulate this idea:

From a developmental perspective, these self-regulatory structures and mechanisms are viewed as characteristic modes of affect regulation and associated expectations, attitudes, and beliefs internalized from patterns of dyadic interaction. . . . These processes, or internalized ‘models’ (Bowlby, 1980), serve not as static traits, but as guides to ongoing social interaction, supporting the maintenance of existing patterns of adaptation. . . . Such processes are of great theoretical and practical importance, not only because they may explain continuity in individual development but also because they may lead to an understanding of pathogenesis itself. (p. 594)

This direction in attachment research and theory is consistent with other research and theory that demonstrate that self-regulatory processes may mediate relations between children’s emotional experiences with the parents and developmental outcomes (e.g., Campos, Campos, & Barrett, 1989; Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994). For example, Eisenberg and her colleagues have stressed the role of children’s regulatory capacities in accounting for relations between familial experiences (e.g., parents’ positive or negative emotional expressivity towards the child), children’s temperament, and children’s social competence and risk for adjustment problems (Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Cumberland, 1998; see also Thompson & Calkins, 1996). Increasing evidence also suggests that children’s emotional and other self-regulatory capacities are influenced by their relationships with parents (Kochanska, Murray, & Coy, 1997).

Marital Relationships

Marital conflict has proven to be a particularly significant category of emotional event in the family with regard to child, marital, and family functioning (Cummings & Davies, 1994). Family systems researchers (e.g., Easterbrooks & Emde, 1988; Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1990) have stressed the significance of the marital dyad to parenting and family functioning. When this relationship is distressed, family responsibilities and coping skills suffer (Gilbert, Christensen, & Margolin, 1984). Moreover, links between marital conflict and children’s adjustment problems have long been indicated, including externalizing disorders (e.g., aggression), internalizing difficulties (e.g., anxiety, withdrawal), and academic problems (Cummings & Davies, 1994; Emery, 1989; Grych & Fincham, 1990).

Direct Effects of Exposure to Marital Relations on Children’s Emotionality

Emotionality in the marital subsystem—especially during interparental conflict—has direct effects on children’s emotions and behaviors (e.g., Cummings, 1987) and indirect effects by influencing the quality of emotional communications in the parent-child subsystem (e.g., Jouriles & Farris, 1992). Furthermore, researchers using a number of different analogue paradigms have isolated the emotional qualities of interparental communications as influential in terms of children’s emotions and behaviors (e.g., Shifflett-Simpson & Cummings, 1996).

Observational studies of children’s emotional reactions to parents’conflicts are especially informative with regard to the direct effects of interadult emotions on children’s emotional functioning. Examinations of children’s reactions to naturally occurring marital anger and affection expressions and simulated emotion expressions indicate that marital conflict induced distress and anger in 10- to 20-month-old infants—a reaction that was markedly different from their reaction to marital harmony (Cummings, Zahn-Waxler, & RadkeYarrow, 1981). In a follow-up study, Cummings, ZahnWaxler, & Radke-Yarrow (1984) found that children’s reactions to expressions of anger and affection in the home changed over time. Children who were 6–7 years old overtly expressed their emotions (e.g., cry, yell, laugh) during interparental anger situations significantly less often than they did as toddlers; they were also much more likely to intervene in marital conflict situations, as evidenced by the significantly higher rate of mediation attempts. O’Hearn, Margolin, and John (1997) also reported on children’s reactions to marital conflict based on parents’ completions of daily reports of marital conflicts that occurred in front of their child. Children from homes with physical marital conflict were more likely to evidence negative emotions (appear sad or frightened), become hostile (misbehave or appear angry), or attempt to control exposure to marital conflict (leave the room) than were childrenfromnonphysical-conflictorlow-conflictfamilies.In addition, children from high-conflict families (physical or nonphysical) were more likely to take sides during marital conflict episodes than were children from the low-conflict homes.

The emotionally stressful effects of exposure to adults’ conflicts have been documented in children as young as 6monthsofage.Literallydozensofstudies—withthefindings converging on the same conclusions even when based upon multiple and different types of home- and laboratory-based methodologies—have consistently shown that children react with emotional distress as bystanders to conflict (Cummings & Davies, 1994). Distress responses shown by children include motor inhibition and freezing; self-reported anger, distress, concern, self-blame, and fear; behavioral responses of anger, distress, and hostile aggression; physiological indications of stress reactions (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate elevation, galvanic skin response); and children’s concerned mediation in the parents’disputes. Children’s reports of negative representations and expectations about interparental relations indicative of emotional distress are also associated with exposure to marital conflict (e.g., Davies & Cummings, 1998; Grych, 1998; Shamir, Du Rocher-Schudlich, & Cummings, 2002). It is notable that children’s distressed reactions to marital conflict increase as a function of negative marital conflict histories, and such reactions to marital conflict are associated with adjustment problems (Cummings & Davies, 1994).

Indirect Effects of Marital Relations on Children’s Emotionality via Influence on Parenting

A substantial literature supports relations between marital conflict and negative changes in parenting. Relationships marked by the presence of violence or a high frequency of overt conflict have been linked to inconsistent child rearing (Holden & Ritchie, 1991) and disciplinary problems (Stoneman, Brody, & Burke, 1989). Marital conflict has also been associated with increased parental negativity and intrusive control (Belsky, Youngblade, Rovine, & Volling, 1991) and with low levels of parental warmth and responsiveness (Cox, Owen, Lewis, & Henderson, 1989). Conflict between parents may drain them of the necessary emotional resources to operate effectively (Goldberg & Easterbrooks, 1984), or anger between parents may translate directly into angry interactions with children (Kerig, Cowan, & Cowan, 1993).

Marital relations are also predictive of the quality of the emotional bond or attachment that forms between parents and children. Increases in marital conflict during the first 9 months (Isabella & Belsky, 1985)—or even prenatally (Cox & Owen, 1993)—are linked to insecure attachment at 12 months of age. Another study found that high marital conflict when children were 1 year of age predicted insecure attachment at age 3 (Howes & Markman, 1989). Finally, children’s relationships with their parents may also change because of the negative effects on their sense of trust or high regard for parents due to watching them behave in mean or hostile ways toward each other (Owen & Cox, 1997).

To synthesize the information from studies of marital relations and parent-child relations, Erel and Burman (1995) performed a meta-analysis of 68 pertinent studies. The results indicated a moderately large relationship between marital conflict and parenting. Furthermore, significant relations were found between marital conflict and multiple forms of problems in parenting. Based on this extensive metaanalysis, the authors concluded that “these findings suggest that, regardless of causality, positive parent-child relations are less likely to exist when the marital relationship is troubled” (pp. 128–129).

More recent observational studies of the emotional functioning of triadic family contexts of marital conflict and children’s functioning add to the case for the effects of marital conflict on children’s emotional functioning in triadic contexts (i.e., the mother, father, and child are present). In one such study, Easterbrooks, Cummings, and Emde (1994) reported that toddlers showed more positive emotional behaviors than distressed behaviors when their parents demonstrated harmonious or positive expressions during a marital problem-solving task. On the other hand, expressions of distress between the parents were significantly related to children’s distress. In another recent study, Kitzman (2000) reported that family emotional processes involving mothers, fathers, and their 6- to 8-year-old sons become disrupted after conflictual marital interactions but not after pleasant marital interactions. Lower levels of family cohesion as well as higher levels of unbalanced alliances were found following marital disagreements. In addition, fathers demonstrated significantly less support and engagement toward their sons following the conflictual discussion compared to the pleasant discussion. Finally, Davis, Hops, Alpert, and Sheeber (1998), using a sequential analysis procedure, found that conflictual mother-father interactions led to children’s subsequent hostile aggressiveness during triadic family interactions. Moreover, adolescents’ aggressive and dysphoric responses to interparental aggression sequences contributed to the prediction of their overall aggressive and depressive functioning when general marital satisfaction was included as a control variable.

Family wide Perspective

Families are appropriately viewed as relational environments with systems qualities (Cox & Paley, 1997). At this level of analysis, familial influences can be seen to reflect the multiple and mutually influential effects of multiple systems, including interparental, parent-child, sibling, and whole family systems; thus, a systems theory perspective may be usefully applied to outlining the complex patterns of mutual influence of emotional expression and behavior that characterize family functioning. Accordingly, such a perspective in part emphasizes viewing families as organized wholes, with the wholes having influences above and beyond those of its parts. For example, overall family emotional expressiveness may constitute a context for children’s reaction to family emotion—beyond effects due to the emotional qualities of specific family subsystems (Cassidy, Parke, Butkovsky, & Braungart, 1992).

At the same time, it also follows from systems theory that the family is appropriately seen as composed of multiple distinct subsystems, with each exercising influence on the others and on the whole. Accordingly, the actions and emotions of family members are necessarily interdependent, having a reciprocal and continuous influence on other family members, with each individual or dyadic unit inextricably embedded within the larger family system. Thus, a family systems model advocates against simple linear models of causality or the assumption that one can adequately understand family influences by focusing exclusively on certain individual subsystems (Emery, Fincham, & Cummings, 1992). Applied to a familywide model of emotions, systems theory predicts that the emotions and behaviors of each subsystem are related to the emotions and behaviors of other subsystems. It is notable that the emotional and social functioning of the sibling subsystem is also affected by marital conflict (Stocker & Youngblade, 1999).

Children and Family Emotionality in the Home

Research based on parental diary reports of emotional expressions in the context of marital interactions indicate pervasive interconnections between emotions and behaviors among family members during everyday interactions. Given that the meaning rather than the specific content of family communications is particularly important in the consideration of effects on both parents and children (Fincham, 1998), the perspective afforded by parental reports of their own emotions and their perceptions of the partners’and children’s emotions may be particularly telling about emotionality and family functioning.

Taking the examination of relational influences on family emotionality a step further than in previous research (e.g., Cummings et al., 1981), Cummings, Goeke-Morey, and Papp (in press) examined the interdependence between emotions and behaviors within the marital subsystem and the effects on the emotionality of the marital subsystem on the emotional functioning of children—that is, progress toward a familywide model was achieved to the extent that effects pertaining to the responses of mothers, fathers, and children were examined, especially in the context of interparental and triadic systems (mother, father, child). Consistent with a familywide perspective on the role of emotions in families, it was expected that the emotions experienced or expressed by one member of the family would be related to emotions experienced or expressed by other members of the family, including mothers, fathers, and children. Moreover, consistent with a functionalist perspective on emotions, it was expected that the apparent meaning of parental emotions—as evidenced by the negativity versus positivity of emotions—would predict the other parent’s and children’s emotional and behavioral responses.

With regard to interparental communications, substantial reciprocity was found between wives’ and husbands’ emotional expressions, both for positive and for negative emotional expressions—that is, the emotions of one spouse had a substantial and predictable relation to emotions of the other spouse. Specifically, parents reported that when one partner (either wife or husband) expressed more anger, sadness, fear, or negative emotionality (negativity, i.e., the sum of anger, sadness, and fear), the other partner engaged in more destructive behaviors (such as physical aggression, threats, yelling, giving dirty looks, withdrawing). Moreover, when one partner expressed anger, the other expressed more negative emotionality and engaged in less productive (such as calmly discussing, problem solving, reaching a partial resolution) and less constructive (such as humorous, affectionate, supportive, apologetic, compromising) behaviors. Conversely, when one partner expressed more positive emotionality, the other expressed more positive emotionality and engaged in less destructive behaviors and in more productive and constructive behaviors.

Moreover, Cummings, Goeke-Morey, and Papp (in press) also reported that emotions and behaviors between the parents were linked to children’s emotional and behavioral reactions in a manner consistent with a functionalist perspective on the role of emotion in family functioning—that is, children’s responses were consistent with the apparent meaning of the parent’s emotionality as indicated by the valence of the parent’s emotions. Thus, when parents expressed more anger, sadness, fear, and negative emotionality in marital conflict, children were more concerned. Moreover, children generally expressed more negative emotion and less positive emotion when their parents expressed negative emotions during martial conflict. Parents also reported that their and their partners’ positive emotionality was related to their children’s positive emotionality.

Furthermore, parents reported that children engaged in insecure behaviors (crying, freezing, misbehaving, yelling at parents, being aggressive) when parents were angry or evidenced negative emotionality. Moreover, children’s negative emotional appraisals appeared to activate, organize, and motivate behavioral responding to marital conflicts, shown either by their overt avoidance of exposure to marital conflict or by active efforts to ameliorate the parent’s marital problems (i.e., children acting as mediators). Parents further reported that children’s efforts to act as mediators (involvement in the parents’conflict through such acts as comforting, helping out, taking sides) were related to the parents’expressions of negative emotionality, fear, anger, and sadness. Parents also reported that their negative emotionality, anger, and sadness was related to children’s avoidance and that parents’ positivity was inversely related to children’s avoidance. Similar findings were reported for children’s responses to the mothers’ and fathers’ expressions of emotions during marital conflict, and mothers’ and fathers’ diary records yielded remarkably similar patterns of findings.

In summary, these data illustrate the intriguing patterns of mutual influence of emotions between and among family members in the everyday context of the home. Moreover, the evidence indicated that individuals’ emotions were more closely linked with their own behaviors and the responses of others to these behaviors than were other categories of social expression and behavior (Cummings, Goeke-Morey, & Papp, in press). Thus, although by no means a formal or direct test of the strong assumptions of the functionalist perspective on the role of emotions in family functioning, these results are sufficiently suggestive to support—even encourage—further exploration of the hypotheses of a functionalist perspective.

A Functionalist Perspective on Emotionality, Family Functioning, and Personality Development

Cummings and Davies have proposed a theoretical model for a functionalist perspective on the role of emotions in organizing, regulating, and directing children’s responses to marital conflict (Davies & Cummings, 1994) and family functioning (Cummings & Davies, 1996). This theory, called the emotional security hypothesis, specifically places considerable emphasis on emotional regulation and reactivity as significant elements of children’s appraisals and responses to family events. Moreover, when events are appraised as threatening, emotional reactions are seen as serving to organize and motivate children’s responses (e.g., children serving as mediators in marital conflicts) to threatening events (e.g., hostile marital conflict; see also Emery, 1989).

The theory is proposed as an extension of attachment theory to a familywide model of processes that account for children’s responses to family events, with these response processes—in particular, emotional regulation and reactivity—seen as having implications for children’s personality development over time. Some tentative evidence to support the model has emerged. Recent empirical tests of the role of emotional regulation as a mediator of children’s functioning due to marital conflict histories have been conducted. For example, using a latent variable path analysis, Davies and Cummings (1998) examined whether links between marital relations and children’s adjustment were mediated by response processes indicative of emotional security.Analyses supported theoretical pathways whereby emotional reactivity (e.g., vigilance, distress) mediated relations between marital conflict and both externalizing and internalizing symptoms.

More recently, basing their conclusions on tests formulated in terms of structural equation modeling, Harold and Shelton (2000) reported that children’s emotional reactivity in response to marital conflict—as well as attachment security—mediated relations between family functioning and child adjustment.

Cultural Contexts

Consistent with the propositions of Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological perspective, childhood development is best understood as embedded in a variety of social and other ecological contexts, including community, cultural, and ethnic contexts of child development. Neighborhood and community, socioeconomic status (SES), and ethnicity (including generation and acculturation) are among the contextual-ecological influences that may affect children’s emotional and social functioning, including the relative efficacy of different socialization practices (Parke & Buriel, 1998). Each of these factors may exercise influence and may change the relative impact of family events and processes on child development. Thus, it is critical that attention be paid to whether the socialization models developed on middle-class Caucasian samples are appropriate to other, often-neglected samples (Cowan, Powell, & Cowan, 1998).

Research directions that examine influences of culture and ethnicity are essential to understand the full range of variation in family functioning and child development, including the determinationofwhetherfamilypracticesandtheireffects are culture-specific or culture-universal (Bornstein, 1991). There is an emerging consensus that innovative approaches are needed to advance substantially the cross-cultural study of psychological processes (van de Vijver & Leung, 2000). For example, in cross-cultural psychology, culture typically is treated as an independent variable. New directions in the study of culture conceptualize culture as process (Keller & Greenfield, 2000), with the effects of culture seen in terms of dynamic response processes occurring in individuals due to transactions between the individual and environment over time (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000).

For example, in contrast to much of the research in development psychology, an impressive body of attachment research has been conducted across cultures. In fact, an interest in cross-cultural perspectives has characterized attachment research from the beginning (Bowlby, 1969, 1973). Moreover, observational study of attachment security in naturalistic contexts and initial exploration of the tripartite classification of attachment (i.e., secure, avoidant, resistant) began with Ainsworth’s work among the Ganda in Africa (van IJzendoorn & Sagi, 1999). In addition to the extensive research based on European samples, a substantial body of work has been based on cultures from other parts of the world, including Japan, Israel, China, Columbia, Chile, and several African cultures. This cross-cultural database is an admirable contribution, although the number of cultures that have been studied must be regarded as relatively modest in relation to the worldwide domain of different cultures (van IJzendoorn & Sagi, 1999).

Furthermore, cross-cultural research can be seen as generally supporting the validity of the basic propositions of attachment theory. Attachment phenomena—for example, the child’s use of the parents as a secure base—are readily observed across cultures. Moreover, the different patterns of attachment found in Western cultures are generally found elsewhere and appear to describe the domain of attachments as adequately in non-Western cultures as they do in Western cultures. It would also appear that secure attachments are not just a Western ideal, but are normative and preferred across cultures.

However, cross-cultural research can also been interpreted as raising challenges for attachment theory. For example, the distributions of insecure attachments (i.e., avoidant, resistant) in particular have been reported to vary across cultures. We wish to note, however, that the more significant question for attachment theory is whether variations in attachment patterns follow from variations in parenting, especially emotional dimensions of parenting (e.g., parental sensitivity, emotional availability, and responsiveness), consistent with the predictions of attachment theory. This question exemplifies the process-oriented level of analysis that is a needed next step in the study of cultural influences on attachment. This level of analysis has been explored only in a limited number of cultures, especially with regard to the prediction of different patterns of attachment following from variations in the emotional dimensions of parenting (Waters & Cummings, 2000). On the other hand, although the evidence to date is relatively scant, emotional dimensions of parent-child relationships—especially parental sensitivity— have been linked with secure attachment in virtually all cultures in which statistically significant results are found (van IJzendoorn & Sagi, 1999).

Consider another example: As we have seen, a substantial body of evidence indicates that marital conflict and discord has negative effects on children’s functioning and adjustment (Grych & Fincham, 1990). However, understanding of the pervasiveness of these relations is limited because most research has been based upon children and families from American or other Western cultures (e.g., British samples; Rutter & Quinton, 1984). Put another way, the study of families in other cultures or non-White ethnic groups has rarely considered marital functioning as an influence on children’s functioning (Parke & Buriel, 1998).

To address this gap, Cummings, Wilson, and Shamir (2000) recently reported that children’s exposure to marital hostility and other indexes of marital discord were related to adjustment among Chilean children, with effects at least as evident as those found among American children. Moreover, reflecting a process-oriented level of analysis, the qualities of marital conflict behavior were found to be related to children’s processes of emotional responding to marital conflict across cultures, with Chilean children making distinctions in emotional responding between unresolved and resolved conflict similar to (or even greater than) those of American children.

In summary, research and theory are emerging to support a familywide perspective on emotions from a systems perspective; moreover, specific process models are being developed that emphasize the function of emotions in organizing and directing children’s reactions to family interactions. Consistent with the move to process-level explanation of relations between emotions and personality, research has begun also to articulate cultural contexts as influences on relations between emotional functioning and relationships, family contexts, and children’s personality development. However, more research is needed to further explore interrelations between family, especially the significance of sibling relationships and the effects of extended family members (e.g., grandparents), culture, and children’s emotions and behaviors, with ongoing prospective longitudinal studies especially significant for further understanding the causal role of children’s emotional functioning in their personality development across cultural contexts.

Normal and Abnormal Emotional and Personality Development: A Developmental Psychopathology Perspective

The study of emotional and personality disorders in childhood has a long history in psychology. However, increasing emphasis is being placed on moving beyond simply documenting correlations between childhood factors and later development to advanced understanding of the processes underlying children’s emotional and personality development. In particular, the developmental psychopathology perspective has underscored the importance of understanding the processes that underlie normal and abnormal development (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995; Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). The purpose of this last section is to briefly review the themes that characterize these emerging directions for conceptualizing emotional and personality development.

Conceptualizing Personality Disorders as Processes, Not Outcomes

Childhood psychopathology was long viewed from the perspective of a static model of development (e.g., something that a person “has”)—that is, disorders were treated as discrete, enduring, and having linear trajectories in terms of causes and outcomes (Sroufe, 1997), with the focus on symptom description and the classification of disorders rather than on etiological processes (Sroufe & Rutter, 1984). Precursors to disorders were expected to be single pathogens (e.g., biologically based pathogens) or early forms of the disorder, and psychopathology was assumed to be qualitatively different from normality (Rutter, 1986).

In addition, the focus was on decidedly on abnormality and risk vulnerability. For example, marital conflict was assumed to be a homogeneous stimulus with uniformly negative and distressing effects on children. Recent work—consistent with a developmental psychopathology perspective—has shown that distinctions can be made between constructive and destructive marital conflict behaviors from the perspective of effects on children; with some forms actually beneficial for children to witness and with possibly protective effects (Cummings, 1998; Cummings & Davies, 1994).

Moreover, the developmental psychopathology approach calls attention to the importance of understanding the multiplicity of individual, biological, social, familial, and other processes that underlie the development of childhood problems. For example, multiple emotional, cognitive, and physiological processes have been implicated as mediators of relations between marital conflict and children’s adjustment and social competence (Cummings & Davies, 2002). Additionally, a focus is on an in-depth understanding of the developmental processes and pathways that precede and account for the development of clinical disorders. A developmental psychopathology approach also advocates simultaneously examining both abnormal and normal and risk and resiliency to provide a more accurate, appropriately complex, and complete picture of the processes that account for the risk for—and emergence of—psychopathology in children.

Accordingly, developmental psychopathology can best be defined in terms of its primary goal: achieving a science that can unravel the dynamic-process relations underlying pathways of normal development and the development of psychopathology (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). Given the process-oriented focus, it follows that children’s adjustment and functioning ultimately must be assessed using a multidisciplinary, multidomain, multicontextual, and multimethod strategies (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995). It is notable that the developmental psychopathology perspective assumes a contextualistic worldview, in which development is viewed as emerging from ongoing interactions involving an active, changing organism in a dynamic, changing context (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). A transactional model of developmental process is adopted, whereby reciprocal interactions occur between children’s intraorganismic characteristics, their adaptational history, and the current context (Sroufe, 1997). Thus, psychopathology is not due to a single pathogen’s acting on the child, but rather is the end result of complex interactions between risk and protective factors over time.

The aim is to uncover dynamic-process relations, including moderators and mediators of childhood outcomes. Psychopathology is viewed as reflecting deviations from normative patterns over time (Sroufe, 1997). Inherent in this concept are the notions of multifinality, in which the same pathways lead to different outcomes, and equifinality, in which more than one pathway leads to the same outcome. The development of disorder is understood from a probabilistic perspective (i.e., change is possible at any point in time), although change is constrained by prior adaptation. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on the significance of context for interpreting developmental patterns: What may be dysfunctional or harmful in one context may be adaptive in another.

Although the focus of developmental psychopathology is not on describing and identifying specific disorders in children, this perspective advocates for fuller conceptualization by emphasizing the importance of taking into account both the context and the developmental level of the child in nosological systems. For example, this approach to defining disorders is pertinent to understanding the comorbidity of disorders.Notethatchildrenoftenhavebehaviorsthatfitintotwo or more diagnostic categories. Although some approaches may attempt to assign only one or the other diagnosis or may assume that multiple disorders are present, the developmental psychopathology perspective considers the possibility that underlying processes do not necessarily fit into standard nosological classifications (Sroufe, 1997)—that is, the concept of static diagnostic categories may be not be an optimal heuristic for capturing the dynamic patterns of processes of psychological functioning, nor for capturing the current and historical contexts that underlie children’s functioning. For example, diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder often go hand in hand, but children fitting both classifications may have family histories, developmental courses, and prognoses different from those of children with one or the other problem (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). For example, children fitting both classifications are more likely than are other groups to have dysfunctional families with high rates of psychopathology; they are also more likely to have poorer outcomes in adolescence (Layhey et al., 1988) and adulthood (Weiss & Hechtman, 1993). In sum, focusing on the child, familial, social, and developmental factors occurring and changing over time provides avenues for greater understanding of how and why maladjustment occurred and how to best treat it.

As can be seen, the dynamic process-oriented approach of developmental psychopathology provides a powerful theoretical framework for charting new directions for studying and understanding child adjustment problems. This approach encourages directions towards determining more precisely which factors pose risks for children’s development over time and which are protective or compensatory in nature. The goal of process-oriented research is to “describe the specific responses and patterns in the context of specific histories or developmental periods that account over time for normal versus clinically significant outcomes” (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). In other words, the goal is to be able to characterize how and why the psychological, physiological, and other factors function over time as dynamic processes.

Children of Depressed Parents

Children of depressed parents provide an example of the pertinence of such an approach toward examining processes underlying adjustment. Children of depressed parents are at heightened risk for a full range of adjustment problems— including emotional and personality problems—and are at specific risk for clinical depression (Downey & Coyne, 1990). Biological and cognitive models are important in accounting for the relationship between parental depression and child adjustment problems, but they only partially account for this relationship. Many children with depressed parents do not develop adjustment problems, and not all children develop problems at the same point in their development—evidence that other environmental factors must be considered. The heterogeneity of outcomes in children demands further explication of the processes that account for and modify children’s adjustment (Cummings & Davies, 1994).

Children may be affected by parental depression through direct exposure, altered patterns of parent-child interactions and attachment, and associated increases in conflict and discord within the family (Cummings, DeArth-Pendley, Du Rocher Schudlich, & Smith, 2000). The importance of examining several contexts is further exemplified by findings that marital conflict is an even better predictor than is depression of adjustment problems in children when there is parental depression. Thus, Downey and Coyne (1990) comment that “marital discord is a viable alternative explanation for the general adjustment difficulties of children with a depressed parent” (p. 68).

This example makes evident the need for a complex, flexible theoretical model that can incorporate these diverse findings and yield a viable explanation of the multiple potential pathways of development. Thus, it is not as simple as just a genetic predisposition’s causing maladjustment in children of depressed parents, and it is not just the presence or absence of certain factors that can lead to adjustment or maladjustment; rather, it is the way in which these factors transpire that helps account for children’s adjustment at any given time.


The fact that children from adverse circumstances may evidence nonadverse personality outcomes has been characterized in terms of the concept of resilience. The treatment of resilience in the developmental psychopathology approach provides an example of how the developmental psychopathology approach treats relatively complex personality outcomes that may sometimes be oversimplified.

Defining and operationalizing the terms resilience and adversity have varied greatly across theorists and researchers. Although diverse empirical methodology is essential to expand understanding of the resilience construct, it can lead to a host of unrelated findings, questions as to whether it is even the same entity being studied, and varying estimates of rates of resilience among similar risk groups (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). In contemporary research on children, resilience has typically been used to refer to the ability of children to function well in the face of adversity.

Resilience is currently conceptualized in two ways that reflect different usages of the construct. The first conceptualization of it refers to resilience as a positive psychological outcome in the face of adversity. This notion reflects the extent to which diagnostic outcomes of greater competence and fewer adjustment problems (e.g., internalizing or externalizing disorders) are found despite exposure to negative influences (e.g., parental mental illness, poverty; Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). This is a static notion under protective factors foster resilient outcomes, which is not consistent with the cutting-edge conceptualizations of developmental psychopathology. The second way of conceptualizing resilience refers to the dynamic processes of psychological functioning that foster greater positive and diminished negative outcomes in the face of adversity, both at the present time and in the future (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). In this sense, resilience refers to the various protective factors that foster processes of resilience that promote adaptation rather than just resilient outcomes. This conceptualization assumes that processes of resilience operate in opposition to the processes of vulnerability to adversity.

More specifically, “resilience refers to the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances” (Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990, p. 425). Two conditions are inherent within this definition: exposure to threat or adversity and positive adaptation despite these threats or adverse conditions. From a process model, maladaptive and adaptive trajectories result from dynamic, bidirectional relations between experiential and organismic factors; accordingly, notions of risk, resilience, and protective factors must be considered in such terms (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000).

A key tenet of the developmental psychopathology perspective is the study of risk and resilience, taking into account prior adaptation and its relation to current risk—and defining and finding relations between those developmental pathways leading to psychopathology and those leading away (Sroufe, 1997). Accordingly, risk and resiliency or stress and coping are mutually defining and informing in charting processes affecting children’s development. For example, examining how and why protective factors serve as buffers of risk for resilient children from high-conflict homes is just as informative as looking at risk factors leading to psychopathology (Cummings, 1998).

Until recently, researchers assumed resilience was homogenous and was either present or not present. In fact, risk and resilience are not all-or-none phenomena and are heterogeneous. Resilience can be present in certain contexts and domains but not in others, just as certain behaviors can be adaptive in some contexts but not in others (Luthar, Doernberger, & Zigler, 1993). For example, studies of children of depressed parents reveal that although some children seem to be coping relatively well (e.g., in academics), even these well-coping children showed considerable vulnerability for developing depression (Radke-Yarrow & Sherman, 1990). Other studies on at-risk inner-city children found that high-stress children who demonstrated considerable behavioral competence were highly vulnerable to emotional distress over time (Luthar, Doernberger, & Zigler, 1993).

Research in the area of marital conflict and children’s adjustment also highlights the importance of examining different types of children’s competence. For example, children’s intervening behaviors during their parents’ disagreements may lead one to think that such children are unusually wellbehaved, well-adjusted, and mature. However, examining other responses of the children (physiological responses and self-reported emotions) and their adjustment outside of their family context would yield completely different interpretations. This more complex analysis would suggest that the children are quite distressed and have an increased risk for dysfunction later on as a result of their taking on too much responsibility for their parents’ relationship (Cummings & Davies, 1994).

These findings indicate a considerable lack of consistency in the difficulties children experience across domains of competence; they also point to the importance of examining different types of children’s functioning (physiological, emotional, and behavioral) in different domains (e.g., academic, emotional, social). Given the multiple outcomes and the particular risks some children may face, some outcomes may need to be accorded more importance than others as the most critical indicators of resilience (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). For example, in children at risk for a mood disorder, their emotional functioning logically would appear to be more critical than their academic functioning would.

Masten and Coatsworth (1998) reviewed research on resilience over the past 25 years to understand the development of competence in children who are faced with unfavorable or highly adverse situations such as living with severely mentally illparents,familyviolence,poverty,naturaldisasters,andother high-risk situations. Results of the studies were remarkably consistent in pointing to qualities of child and context that are associated with better psychological functioning following adversity. Child characteristics associated with resilience were good intellectual functioning; appealing, sociable, easygoing disposition; self-efficacy, self-confidence, high self-esteem; talents; and faith. Characteristics of the family that were associated with resilience were having a close relationship to a caring parent figure, authoritative parenting (e.g., warmth, structure, high expectations), socioeconomic advantages, and connections to extended supportive family networks. Finally, characteristics of the extrafamilial context associated with resilience were having bonds to prosocial adults outside the family, having connections to prosocial organizations, and attending effective schools.

Just as resilience is purported not to be an all-or-none phenomenon, it is also is posited to not be static (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). In other words, it is unstable; a child who is not resilient at one point in time can later develop resilience, and one who has been resilient can later falter and subsequently deteriorate. Additionally, the meaning of competency and resilience may change across contexts and people. For these reasons it is important to focus on the how and why questions (i.e., mediators) of risk and resilience—as well as on the who and when questions (i.e., moderators)—after the what questions have been answered. In other words, the next step is to delineate the protective factors and processes that account for children’s adaptation under adverse circumstances.

Similarly, inconsistency is evident in the field regarding what constitutes a protective factor. One commonality across many researchers, however, has been a focus on inherently positive characteristics. Protective factors, however, are not restricted to pleasant, positive, desirable things; in fact, they can often be quite adverse and stressful. Challenge models posit that small amounts of adversity have so-called steeling effects—much like those produced by immunizations—that serve to enhance coping, facilitate adjustment, and inoculate children against future psychological trauma. For example, Cummings and Davies (1994b) suggest that children of depressed parents may learn particularly adaptive interpersonal skills—such as sensitivity and empathy—as a result of their exposure to their parents’ depression and to moderate negative affect in the home.

Thus, just as it is important to examine the underlying processes of child maladjustment, it is equally important to examine the underlying processes of resilience that account for their effects rather than simply identify a factor associated with positive outcome. The processes by which protective factors may lead to resilient outcomes include (a) mitigating the riskiness of the stressor or adverse situation, (b) decreasing exposure to the stressor, (c) breaking adverse cycles or chains of bad luck brought about by a stressor, (d) fostering positive self-esteem and confidence, (e) increasing the range of positive opportunities and options, and (f) facilitating emotion regulation and coping skills (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000).

Future Directions

Many promising directions for future research toward better understanding of emotional and personality development from this perspective can be identified. However, it is challenging to adequately measure children’s psychological functioning at the level of dynamic processes and to integrate such microscopic levels of analysis into more macroscopic models that convey the big picture, so to speak, with regard to children’s patterns of adaptation and maladaptation over time in context. Additionally, it is challenging to conduct multimethod research and still make good sense of the results of patterns of information that may diverge on the picture provided (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). Finally, it remains a future goal to more fully incorporate context and developmental history into a diagnostic system, such that a nosology or heuristic integrates the different types of information pertinent to the appraisal of the child’s level of adjustment (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000).


This research paper thus documents the widely ranging research directions concerned with emotional and personality development that have emerged in recent years and promise to continue to develop in the future. As we have shown, the increased emphasis placed on the complexity of emotional processes, the role of emotions in characterizing individual differences between children, and the dynamic effects of emotions in children’s functioning and development over time are among the most significant emerging directions in research. It will be exciting in the future to determine the extent to which a functionalist perspective on the role of emotions in children’s socioemotional development can be further articulated. Relatedly, emerging perspectives—notably as advanced in the emerging work from a developmental psychopathology perspective—call attention to the promise for future conceptual and clinical advances of investigating emotional and personality development from a processoriented perspective. Moreover, this work has served to call further attention to the significance of emotional processes to normal development and the development of psychopathology. Thus, an exciting prospect is that the next two decades will see advances as substantial as those found in the past two decades in our understanding of these vital processes underlying socioemotional development and adjustment in children.


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