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Talking about emotions: Effects of emotion-focused interviewing on children’s physiological regulation of stress and discussion of the subjective elements of a stressful experience


This is the first study to examine the effect of questioning children about emotions and cognitions versus facts on children's stress reactivity and regulation, as well as children's abilities to discuss their subjective experiences, in the context of adult-child discussions about a stressful event. A total of 80 8- to 12-year-old children participated in a stressful laboratory task (i.e., Trier Social Stress Test). Following the task, half of the children were engaged in an emotion-focused conversation with an adult interviewer about the event, and half were engaged in a fact-focused conversation. Electrodermal and cardiac preejection activity and respiratory sinus arrhythmia were derived at baseline, during the laboratory stressor, and during the conversation to index stress reactivity and regulation. Children's narratives were coded for indicators of emotion processing (i.e., positive and negative emotion words, cognitive words [e.g., think, know]). Children's English language abilities, self-reported stress, and several parent-report measures (demographics, child life stress, and children's emotion regulation strategies) were also obtained. Results indicate that the emotion-focused interview facilitated children's discussions of their subjective experiences without increasing their stress reactivity and that children showed enhanced physiological stress regulation during the emotion-focused interview. This research will be of interest to those in the fields of child narratives, stress, and social context as well as to parents and practitioners interested in improving children's understanding, reporting, and recovery after stressful experiences.

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