Children's physiological reactivity in emotion contexts and prosocial behavior.

Research paper by Brianne R BR Coulombe, Kristen L KL Rudd, Tuppett M TM Yates

Indexed on: 03 Dec '20Published on: 17 Sep '19Published in: Brain and behavior


Building on prior evidence that prosocial behavior is related to the regulation of personal distress in difficult situations, and given that physiological regulation is a central contributor to effective emotion regulation, this investigation evaluated whether and how children's autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity during emotion challenges influenced later expressions of prosocial behavior. The current study utilized a diverse sample of school-aged children (N = 169; 47.9% female; 47.3% Latinx) to evaluate relations between children's parasympathetic (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia; RSA) and sympathetic (i.e., pre-ejection period; PEP) reactivity in response to each of three film-elicited emotion challenges (i.e., sadness, happiness, and fear) at age 7 and both observed and parent-reported prosocial behavior one year later. Children's parasympathetic reactivity to a film eliciting sadness evidenced a nonlinear relation with later prosocial sharing such that children who evidenced either RSA withdrawal or augmentation in response to the sad emotion challenge engaged in higher levels of prosocial behavior than children who evidenced relatively low or absent reactivity. Parasympathetic reactivity to films eliciting happiness or fear was not significantly related to later prosocial behavior. Likewise, children's sympathetic reactivity in response to the emotion challenges did not significantly predict later prosocial behavior. These findings provide preliminary support for a nonlinear association between children's parasympathetic emotion reactivity and later prosocial behavior, and suggest that children's ANS regulation in sad emotion contexts may be particularly important for understanding prosocial development. © 2019 The Authors. Brain and Behavior published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.