Wass, S. 2021. PsyArXiv
Most research has studied self-regulation by presenting experimenter-controlled test stimuliand measuring change between a baseline period and the stimulus. But in the real world weare not passive recipients of discrete chunks of external stimulation, to which we in turnrespond; rather, the real world is continuous and we self-regulate by adaptively selectingwhich aspects of the social environment that we attend to from one moment to the next. Here,we contrast two dynamic processes that guide this process – the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ of self-regulation. First, allostasis, through which we dynamically compensate for change tomaintain homeostasis. This involves upregulating in some situations and downregulating inothers. And second, metastasis, the dynamical principle underling dysregulation. Throughmetastasis, small initial fluctuations can become progressively amplified over time. Wecontrast these processes at the individual level (i.e. by examining moment-to-moment changein one child, considered independently) and also at the inter-personal level (i.e. by examiningchange across a dyad, such as a parent-child dyad). Finally, we discuss practical implicationsof this approach in improving the self-regulation of emotion and cognition, in typicaldevelopment and psychopathology.
The origins of effortful control: How early development within arousal/regulatory systems influences attentional and affective control
Wass, S. 2021. Academic Press
In this review, I consider the developmental interactions between two domains sometimes characterised as at opposite ends of the human spectrum: early-developing arousal/regulatory domains, that subserve basic mechanisms of survival and homeostasis; and the later-developing ‘higher-order’ cognitive domain of effortful control. First, I examine how short-term fluctuations within arousal/regulatory systems associate with fluctuations in effortful control during early childhood. I present evidence suggesting that both hyper- and hypo-arousal are associated with immediate reductions in attentional and affective control; but that hyper-aroused individuals can show cognitive strengths (faster learning speeds) as well as weaknesses (reduced attentional control). I also present evidence that, in infancy, both hyper- and hypo-aroused states may be dynamically amplified through interactions with the child’s social and physical environment. Second, I examine long-term interactions between arousal/regulatory systems and effortful control. I present evidence that atypical early arousal/regulatory development predicts poorer attentional and affective control during later development. And I consider moderating influences of the environment, such that elevated early arousal/regulatory system reactivity may confer both cognitive advantages in a supportive environment, and disadvantages in an unsupportive one. Finally, I discuss how future research can further our understanding of these close associations between attentional and affective domains during early development.
Needing to shout to be heard? Affective dysregulation, caregiver under-responsivity, and disconnection between vocal signalling and autonomic arousal in infants from chaotic households
Wass, S., Goupil, L., Smith, C., & Greenwood, E. 2021. PsyArXiv
Higher levels of household chaos have been related to increased child affect dysregulation during later development. To understand why this relationship emerges, we used miniature wearable microphones and autonomic monitors to obtain day-long recordings in home settings from a cohort of N=74 12-month-old infants and their caregivers from the South-East of the UK. Our findings suggest a disconnect between what infants communicate and their physiological arousal levels, that are likely to reflect what they experience. Specifically, in households which families self-reported as being more chaotic, infants were more likely to produce negative affect vocalisations such as cries at lower levels of arousal. This disconnection between signalling and autonomic arousal was also present in a lab still face procedure, where infants from more chaotic households showed reduced change in facial affect and slower physiological recovery despite equivalent change in arousal during the still face episode. Finally, we found that this disconnect between what infants communicate and their physiological arousal levels may influence the likelihood of a caregiver responding. Implications for understanding the mechanisms underlying the relationship between household chaos, emotion dysregulation and caregiver under-responsivity are discussed.