Home » News » Parenting » Childhood Insecurity Can Impair Adult Emotional Regulation
Childhood Insecurity Can Impair Adult Emotional Regulation

Childhood Insecurity Can Impair Adult Emotional Regulation

New research suggests early childhood experiences can influence the way individuals manage stressful situations in adulthood.

For example, imagine two candidates at a high stakes job interview. One of them handles the pressure with ease and sails through the interview. The other candidate, however, feels very nervous and under-performs.

Experts explain that the emotional bonds we develop with a parent or primary caregiver in early childhood are thought to be the basis of our ability to regulate our emotions as adults.

“We know from other studies that our history of attachment directly influences how we act in social situations;” explained Dr. Christine Heinisch, one of the authors of the study; “but what about reaction to a neutral stimulus under emotional conditions?”

A good example of this in daily life, says Dr. Heinisch, is when a car approaches a traffic light. Under neutral conditions, it is easy for the driver to follow the signal. But what happens under emotional conditions?

“Usually, people tend to make more errors, like stopping too late or even driving through when the traffic light is red. Sometimes they stop although the light is still green,” she explains.

However, not everyone’s actions are impacted by emotions to the same extent. Some of us had emotionally responsive caregivers or parents in childhood, while others didn’t.

Psychologist explain that the “attachment theory” suggests these early experiences influence the ability to regulate emotions as adults.

We expected those having problems with emotional regulation to make more errors in performing a task — and one significant variable influencing this is our attachment experience,” said Dr. Heinisch.

To test this theory, their group conducted a study on adult subjects with different childhood caregiver experiences. Subjects in the study performed a task of identifying a target letter from among a series of flashing letters.

This task was administered under conditions that evoked a positive, neutral, or negative emotional state. The researchers then assessed task performance and analyzed EEG recordings of brain function in their subjects.

The results were revealing.

Subjects who did not have emotionally responsive caregivers in childhood (insecure-attached) had more trouble performing under emotionally negative conditions than the others (secure-attached).

They also had lower brain activity in response to the target letter under negative conditions than secure-attached subjects.

The lower task performance correlated with inefficient strategies for emotional regulation seen in insecure-attached adults. This could mean that a greater share of cognitive resources was allocated for regulating emotions, and consequently, less was available for performing the task.

Researchers admit that the study has limitations. One potential drawback is that the target letters were unrelated to the emotional context cues provided, and therefore had little real-life relevance.

In future studies, the authors plan to use a person or an object with emotional significance as target, and socially relevant situations as the context of the task.

One thing seems clear though — childhood emotional experiences have long lasting consequences for your ability to perform a given task.

The study appears in the open access online journal, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Source: Frontiers

Childhood Insecurity Can Impair Adult Emotional Regulation

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Childhood Insecurity Can Impair Adult Emotional Regulation. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/09/02/childhood-insecurity-can-impair-adult-emotional-regulation/109375.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Sep 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Sep 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.