Analysing self-regulation : Its cognitive and emotional foundations and links with social understanding in early child development

Pala, Cansu and Lewis, Charlie (2015) Analysing self-regulation : Its cognitive and emotional foundations and links with social understanding in early child development. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Self-regulation is the term referring to a set of abilities that we employ in order to engage in everyday activities. Yet its operational definition is difficult, since it involves several component skills, like the inhibition of prepotent responses and a need to control emotions. These skills each show rapid development in the preschool period and this thesis explores how the regulatory processes in cognitive and emotional domains unfolds. I start with a conceptualization of cognitive and emotional regulation, suggesting that the literature is beset with problems of differential labelling and measurement. For example, ‘Inhibitory Control’ (IC) has been claimed as unitary by some but involves two processes –Conflict and Delay – by others. The bridge between cognitive-regulation (CR) emotion-regulation (ER) has been less well researched and it stretches our conception of the link between regulation of thought, behaviour, and feelings. The assessment of emotionality has been approached from various angles such as the discrepancy between the control of positive or negative emotions and comprehension of emotionality. In 5 studies (with 421 children in total), I tested the association between cognitive and emotional processes in the development of self-regulation. A grasp of mental states and emotions was found to be associated with the regulation processes in both domains. The final three experiments attempt to explain the effect of ‘understanding’ over the ability of control in both domains. The direct observations of ER, which evokes both positive and negative emotionality, revealed inconsistent findings in terms of the associations that ER shared with IC. In contrast, an understanding of emotionality (EU) as found to relate consistently to conflict-inhibition and mental-state understanding. A scale was developed to cover the middle ground between ER and EU and is called SURE (a Scale of Understanding of Regulation of Emotions). Studies 4 and 5, which employed this measure, showed that the children were able to make prospective attributions of ER for story characters starting from the age of four. Children’s performance in this task was related to the control over their behaviour in rule-based situations (e.g. conflict-inhibition tasks). To observe children’s control of emotionality, a novel measure was developed to assess their internalization of the necessity of control in a cognitively demanding task, which focuses on emotional changes. It is suggested that future research should investigate different forms of understanding of emotions and cognitive processes in more detail.

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28 Sep 2020 14:10
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09 Jul 2024 23:02