Affective social competence
One challenge to the study of children’s socio-emotional development has been to synthesize the myriad competencies of importance to children’s wellbeing. However, Susanne Denham, Julie Dunsmore, and I created a transactional model that now brings the many skills and processes involved in “affective social competence” (ASC) into one coherent, testable whole. In brief, the ASC model proposes that children develop emotional skills in three broad domains: sending (“the efficacious communication of one’s own affect”), receiving (“the successful interpretation and response to others’ affective communications”), and experiencing (“the awareness, acceptance, and management of one’s own affect”; Halberstadt, Denham, & Dunsmore 2001, p. 80). Our work in the lab is, in general, influenced by this conceptualization of affective social competence.
Emotion socialization processes
Parents’ beliefs about children’s emotions are thought to be important mechanisms that inform parents’ childrearing behaviors (including expressiveness, reactions to children’s emotions, and scaffolding of competencies); together these impact children’s socio-emotional competence. Our recent work has focused on testing some of the many propositions regarding parental beliefs and their associations with children’s behavior (Dunsmore & Halberstadt, 1997; Halberstadt et al., 2008). Thus, our work (in Julie Dunsmore’s lab as well as my own) has explored the ways in which parents’ beliefs are associated with a variety of parenting behaviors, and then either directly or via parenting behaviors, affect children’s affective social competencies; these competencies include understanding others’ emotions, emotion regulatory strategies and coping, and successful interpersonal relationships (Castro, Halberstadt, Lozada, & Craig, 2015; Dunsmore, Her, Halberstadt, & Rivera, 2009; Halberstadt, Thompson, Parker, & Dunsmore, 2008; Rogers, Halberstadt, Castro, MacCormack, & Garrett-Peters, 2015; Stelter & Halberstadt, 2011). To foster work in this field, we developed the Parents’ Beliefs about Children’s Emotions (PBACE) Questionnaire, which is invariant for three American ethnicities and both fathers and mothers (Halberstadt et al., 2013). Our work is now expanding to developing appropriate scales for Mapuche Chilean and non-Mapuche Chilean families.
Children' emotion understanding: CUED IN Study
Emotion understanding is a central competence for children’s interpersonal and academic success, and further understanding the links between emotion socialization, children’s emotion understanding, and children’s success in school is the goal of our NSF-funded research. With Patricia Garrett- Peters as co-PI, we extended a longitudinal study from birth housed in the Center for Developmental Science. First, we explored associations between multiple facets of emotion understanding (Castro, Halberstadt, & Garrett-Peters, under review), and then assessed direct and mediated contributions to children’s emotion understanding and emotion regulation made via mothers’ beliefs about emotions, and emotion socialization behavior (Castro, Halberstadt, Garrett-Peters, under review; Garrett- Peters, Halberstadt, & Castro, under review; MacCormack, Castro, Halberstadt, Rogers, & Garrett-Peters, P., under review; Rogers, Halberstadt, Castro, & Garrett-Peters, 2016). This is a treasure trove of data still, with lot of research opportunity, both within the study itself and linking to the longitudinal data set. For example, we have collaborated with colleagues to FACS code children’s spontaneous expressions of emotion during an in vivo discussion of conflict with parents to identify whether children’s real-life emotional expression is prototypical or non-prototypical; we also have plans for longitudinal analyses. We welcome additional collaborators.
We are continuing our interest in emotion understanding by expanding in our newest funded work (thank you WT Grant Foundation!) investigating emotion understanding by and about elementary school children in school. We are creating two new measures for teachers which we will be developing first with preservice teachers at three universities (with Pamela Garner at George Mason University and Sherick Hughes at University of North Carolina).
The Social Construction of Emotional Experience, Expression and Understanding
Issues of gender, ethnicity, and culture are interwoven throughout our studies. However, a few studies and initiatives might best be described here.
First, our interest in gendered language: Language involves learning both the specific language itself and the rules and conventions of the culture. Parents make many choices in how they talk to children; as they do so, they teach children (inadvertently or consciously) a variety of cultural rules. Our work in this domain relates to gender: If language highlights the importance of gender, then we would expect children to construct schemas reflecting the importance of gender (Turiel, 1983; Vygotsky, 1962). In a study of parent-child and child-child conversations, we document the frequency of gendered speech and, additionally, the specific types of messages that children hear from family members and that they communicate themselves to others. We find that mothers communicate different messages by gender, even with children as young as four years old. These investigations support the claim that parents construct gendered behavior and values in children via the linguistic messages they convey, and children also bring their own gendered ideas to the table as well (Halberstadt, Cooke, Sibley, Craig, & Thompson, in preparation). We have also studied whether previously found parent gender differences are differentially embedded in various cultures. Briefly, we found that gender differences in both parents’ emotional expressiveness and reactions to children’s negative emotions vary substantially by culture, creating a further challenge for claims that gender differences in emotion-related behaviors are biological (Brown, Craig, & Halberstadt, 2015).
Considering the impact of culture further, we have begun exploring ways in which parents socialize the expression, experience, and understanding of emotion within various cultures and have worked to add a deeper conceptualization of the frames we use when considering culture (Halberstadt & Lozada, 2011). We are now examining how parents discuss discriminatory experiences with their children, and how this relates to children’s understanding of emotion as depicted in African American and European American facial expressions, and children’s overall social competence in school. We are also examining the role of emotion understanding in schools, by considering how teachers’ understanding of emotion may reflect and/or perpetuate misunderstanding by culture and race. This is an important direction that the lab is taking -- applying what we know about emotion understanding toward social justice questions and educational outcomes.
Finally, we are exploring various aspects of socialization of emotion in other cultures. For example, with Yulia Chentsova, at Georgeown University, we have proposed a series of studies to explore the socialization of emotion, as embedded within proximal and distal cultural factors, in the United States and Russia. With Enrique Riquelme at Temuco Catholic University, we are exploring the emotion socialization and emotion regulation strategies of the Mapuche people in Chile. We welcome such collaborations with other international scholars.
Specific emotions: Our favorites!Honestly, we like them all: We have published work on anger in the family, and social contagion of anger (Halberstadt, Beale, Meade, Parker, & Thompson, 2014), and continue to be interested in what makes people angry in their families. We have also been exploring the socialization of pride (Leary and Halberstadt, in preparation), with very promising results. In the CUED IN study described above, we also learned that third-grade children are very capable of experiencing schadenfreude (Leary & Halberstadt, in preparation). Gratitude is a new emotion in our lab, and with Andrea Hussong and collaborators, we have created multiple measures with which to open the field of studying gratitude in young children; utilizing these measures in a study with 200 young children and their mothers, we can now assess more completely how gratitude develops within the family. Finally, the newest work in the lab is on disappointment and sadness, in two cross-laboratory and cross-cultural initiatives.