Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)




Madelyn Labella

Committee Member

Meghan Quinn

Committee Member

Janice Zeman


Emotion regulation, defined as the ability to modulate one’s emotional experiences in order to navigate social interactions successfully and attain goals, has been associated with social competence, adjustment, and resilience during early childhood and beyond. Family-level risk factors have been linked to differences in emerging emotion regulation skills, measured at both the behavioral and physiological level. The current study investigated two familial risk factors, sociodemographic risk and parental substance use, as predictors of toddlers’ emotion regulation. Participants were 117 parent-toddler dyads recruited across a range of sociodemographic risk. Dyads completed a structured series of parent-child interaction tasks, including a resting baseline and a mildly frustrating task, in which toddlers were asked to wait for toys and their parents’ attention. Emotion regulation was assessed through observational coding of the frustration episode and through measurement of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an indicator of parasympathetic nervous system functioning associated with physiological regulation. Contrary to hypotheses, parent-reported sociodemographic risk and recent substance use were not significantly related to children’s emotion regulation, whether measured behaviorally or physiologically, in the current sample. However, RSA response to challenge was significantly associated with behavioral regulation, such that children who maintained higher RSA across the transition from resting baseline to frustration (i.e., withdrew less or augmented) showed better behavioral regulation than those who withdrew more. Consistent with prior literature, older age was associated with higher RSA across tasks, and non-White toddlers tended to have higher resting RSA than their White peers. In conclusion, this study did not find expected associations linking sociodemographic risk and parental substance use with child emotion regulation. However, results clarified links between behavioral and physiological regulation, finding that maintaining higher RSA during mild frustration was associated with better behavioral regulation among socioeconomically diverse toddlers. These findings begin to clarify mixed results regarding the association between RSA withdrawal to challenge and child emotion regulation capabilities.




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