Childhood maltreatment, mental health, and responses to psychosocial stress in young adults: the role of emotion regulation strategies
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Childhood maltreatment predicts mental health problems and stress responses. To design better intervention/prevention programs, it is important to explore mechanisms that may mediate those relationships. Some evidence indicates that emotion regulation strategies (suppression and reappraisal) may play this role. Using self-report, observational, and biological measures and stress manipulation in female and male college students (Study 1: N=267; Study 2: U.S.= 264; Korean=211; Study 3: N=211), I tested the following hypotheses: Study (1) habitual suppression and reappraisal strategies will mediate the relation between childhood maltreatment and perceived stress; Study (2) parental emotional neglect will be positively associated with habitual suppression and internalizing problems, and negatively associated with habitual reappraisal, in both U.S. and Korean participants; Study (3) childhood maltreatment will be associated with heightened physio-emotional responses to the Trier Social Stress Test, mediated by spontaneous suppression and reappraisal. In Study 1, partially supporting my hypotheses, habitual suppression and reappraisal mediated the relationship between self-reported maternal/paternal emotional neglect and perceived stress, though in females only; habitual suppression also mediated the relationship between maternal psychological maltreatment and perceived stress in females. In Study 2, structural equation modeling revealed that, as hypothesized, in both countries parental emotional neglect was positively associated with internalizing problems and negatively associated with habitual reappraisal; habitual reappraisal was negatively associated and habitual suppression was positively associated with internalizing problems. The positive association between parental emotional neglect and suppression was significant only in U.S. participants. In Study 3, partially supporting hypotheses, childhood maltreatment was associated with lower spontaneous reappraisal, higher negative affect at stress-test baseline, and higher behavioral expression during recovery; spontaneous suppression and reappraisal were associated with reduced emotional responsivity. Contrary to hypothesis, no mediating roles for spontaneous suppression and reappraisal were found. Together, results showed that habitual use of some emotion regulation strategies can mediate the relation between childhood maltreatment and later perceived stress (at least in females) and internalizing problems; habitual suppression mediates the association between parental emotional neglect and internalizing problems in U.S. young adults; and childhood maltreatment is related to emotional and behavioral responses to stress and effectiveness of spontaneous reappraisal strategy use during stress.