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The Role of Bilingualism and Emotion Regulation on Hispanic Children’s Anxiety Development


Anxiety symptoms are considered one of the most common psychopathological symptoms in children (Anderson, Williams, McGee, & Silva, 1987) and often predict anxiety symptoms throughout life (Bosquet & Egeland, 2006), as well as other mood disorders in adulthood (Roza, Hofstra, van der Ende, & Verhulst, 2003). Because anxiety symptoms emerge early in life and seem to remain stable throughout development, it is essential that we understand the specific processes that maintain, exacerbate, or protect against the effects of anxiety symptoms. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S., making up about 25% of school-aged children (and up to 50% in California; US Department of Education, 2015). Hispanic children have a higher likelihood of experiencing depression, anxiety, and related mental disorders compared to other minority children (Canino, Gould, Prupis, & Shaffer, 1986). Few studies have addressed potential risk and protective factors that could help us better understand the development of symptoms in this group (Flores et al., 2002). Thus, greater emphasis is needed to understand what aspects of these children’s environments might predict their anxiety symptoms. The goal of this dissertation was to assess whether and how emotion regulation relates to anxiety symptoms in Hispanic children, to identify protective and risk factors for this understudied population.

This dissertation study explored the link between emotion regulation, bilingualism, and anxiety symptoms in 78 Hispanic children between the ages of 8-11 (M = 9.91, SD = 1.14; 39 girls). The main questions guiding this dissertation were: 1) Are there differences in executive functions based on Hispanic children’s level of bilingualism? 2) Are there differences in emotion regulation abilities based on Hispanic children’s level of bilingualism? and 3) Which aspects of emotion regulation (Context Sensitivity, Repertoire, and Implementation) are linked to anxiety symptoms for Hispanic children? Results suggest that bilingualism was associated with inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, emotional attention and context sensitivity, but not with the other measures of executive functions and emotion regulation. Context sensitivity emerged as the only aspect of emotion regulation that predicted anxiety symptoms. Implications for our understanding of Hispanic children’s anxiety and directions for future work are discussed.

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