Research in Child Psychology

Emotional Differences in Preschool-aged Children

By Alicia Cronister-Morais

 

During my first semester as a transfer student here at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth I was presented with an opportunity to join a research study. Dr. Robin Locke-Arkerson was looking for interested students to participate in research conducted in her Child Emotion Center. Research projects in the Child Emotion Center examine emotional development in children, with specific interest in understanding how various emotional, cognitive, and biological processes influence social and emotional behavior.  Current and future projects  of the center include individual differences in emotional behavior, emotional understanding, neuroendocrine (cortisol) and cardiac physiology, attention, language, aggressive behavior, bullying, victimization, peer rejection, and loneliness.

Initially I started working in the Child Emotion Center as a volunteer, but my interest in research compelled me to participate at a greater level. I first assisted with a National Institute of Health (NIH) – funded study that examines multiple factors associated with emotional differences in preschool-aged children. Later, this complex study of child emotion gave me the opportunity to train on various behavioral, cognitive, and biological assessments.  Given the multitrait-multimethod design employed by the study, I was exposed to various forms of data collection, including child interviews, physiological assessments, teacher- and parent-reports, as well as behavioral measures. The behavioral measures are very expansive, with many tasks spanning the realm of various emotions. The interview measures tap into child receptive language skills and knowledge of their own and others’ emotions. I feel the cumulative exposure to the preparation and implementation of this study in Dr. Locke-Arkerson’s lab prepared me to partake in an individual research project. The summer grant I received from OUR and the CAS Dean’s summer research fellowship provided me with the funds to examine unique research questions within this complex study on child emotion. I independently carried out all roles required to conduct this research project. I was invested in all aspects of the study from the beginning (participant recruitment) to the end (participant compensation).  I interacted with many of the school staff and families that so kindly volunteered to participate in this important research on child emotion.  Most importantly, the OUR summer grant and CAS Dean’s fellowship provided an opportunity to examine questions on how language comprehension and emotion knowledge relate to peer rejection and externalizing behavior.  Preliminary findings from my research indicate that children with lower recognition of emotional faces and emotional situations were more likely than other children to be rejected by their peers. Furthermore, a child’s tendency to attribute anger to non-anger faces was also associated with greater peer rejection.  In addition, language comprehension was related to emotion knowledge and attention problems.

 

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Cronister-Morais administering the Peabody Picture Vocabulary test (Dunn & Dunn, 2007) as an assessment of receptive language during an interview with a preschool-aged child, 2016.

 

During this period I also submitted an abstract to present some of the preliminary results from my OUR and CAS Dean’s fellowship funded study at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) to be held in Austin, TX in April 2017. A future goal of mine is to submit a manuscript based on my findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal of psychology.

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Being offered the opportunity to work at a greater capacity on this research project helped me understand the many different techniques employed by researchers to gain additional insight and information into how to improve everyday life. In particular, I am thankful for understanding how children’s language and emotion knowledge are important for adaptive social functioning and how they could be helpful in guiding early intervention and prevention. Recognizing deficits at an early age increases the ability to facilitate improvement in important aspects of a child’s relational functioning.

In addition to addressing my own research questions, the data collection that occurred under the OUR summer grant and CAS Dean’s fellowship will be used to address goals of a broader future research. Research in psychology is very important: it helps elucidate what makes people think, feel, and act in certain situations. It can also give clinicians a better understanding of how relationships within families can improve. As a Psychology major, I wanted to get more involved with research in the field. When I first started at the university I hoped to gain as much experience within the discipline of psychology as I could; I wanted to better understand how research is conducted. The opportunity to work in Professor Locke-Arkerson’s lab with an OUR summer grant and CAS Dean’s summer fellowship was extremely valuable to me. Above all, it prepared me for graduate programs in clinical psychology. Choosing the clinical psychology path, I want to develop treatment models based on the factors that influence social development. Understanding how and why research is conducted has helped me in term of my future career goals. I look forward to assisting children and families develop the skills needed for productive relationships and better social interactions.

 

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