Social Competence and Problem Behavior

Because many of the same predictions regarding the relation of individual differences in emotionality and regulation to empathy-related responding logically would be expected to apply to the broader domain of social competence and problem behavior, we have also have examined the role of individual differences in emotionality and regulation in children's social competence and problem behavior.


As for the study of sympathy and personal distress, we have been interested in the additive and multiplicative contributions of emotionality and regulation. In general, we predicted that high emotionality, particularly frequency and intensity of negative emotion, combined with low regulation, would be associated with externalizing types of behavior problems and low social competence. In contrast, low regulation of emotion (e.g., through low attentional control) combined with high behavioral inhibition/low impulsivity and high emotionality (especially negative emotionality) was expected to predict internalizing types of problems such as high levels of shyness and withdrawn behavior. For both externalizing and internalizing behavior, prediction is expected to be greater when measures of both emotionality and regulation are obtained. Further, we hypothesized that moderational effects would be found for emotionally driven internalizing or externalizing problem behaviors (e.g., that regulation would be a better predictor of externalizing problem behaviors for children prone to experience intense negative emotions).

When we started doing research on these issues, researchers had linked negative emotionality to quality of social functioning (e.g., Barron & Earls, 1984; Teglasi & MacMahon, 1990), but intensity of emotion seldom was examined and often data on both emotionality and social functioning were provided by the same reporter. Although some investigators also had examined the relation between regulation and social functioning, such research was limited in quantity, often a single reporter provided all data (particularly in the studies of temperament or coping, e.g., Kyrios & Prior, 1990; Teglasi & MacMahon, 1990), the findings on regulation pertained primarily to behavioral rather than emotion regulation (e.g., Block & Block, 1980; Kochanska, Murray, Koenig, & Vandegeest, 1996; Pulkkinen, 1982), and the existing data on emotion regulation were collected primarily with infants (e.g., Bridges & Grolnick, 1995; Rothbart et al., 1992). Nonetheless, in the last decade, numerous investigators have examined the relations of regulation and emotionality to adjustment and social competence and many have found that negative emotionality and low regulation are related to low levels of social competence or moral development and to high levels of problem behaviors (e.g., Belsky, Friedman, & Hsieh, 2001; Calkins, Gill, Johnson, & Smith, 1999; Caspi, Henry, McGee, Moffitt, & Silva, 1995; Gilliom, Shaw, Beck, Schonberg, & Lukon, 2002; Kochanska & Knaack, 2003; Kochanska, Murray, & Coy, 1997; Olson, Schilling, & Bates, 1999; Rothbart, Ahadi, & Hershey, 1994; for reviews, see Eisenberg, Fabes, Guthrie, & Reiser, 2000; Eisenberg, Smith, et al., 2004; Rothbart & Bates, 1998, in press)

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