Date of Award

8-1-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

DiLalla, Lisabeth

Abstract

AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF SUFNA GHEYARA JOHN, for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Psychology, presented on March 21st, 2014, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: GENETIC AND PARENTAL INFLUENCES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF EMOTION RECOGNITION SKILLS IN CHILDREN MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Lisabeth DiLalla The purpose of this study was to examine the magnitude of genetic and environmental influences on children's emotion recognition (ER) skills and social difficulties (bullying and victimization). An additional goal was to examine the relation between parent ER skills, child ER skills, and child social difficulties. It was expected that genetic and environmental influences would account for a significant portion of the variance in child ER skills and social difficulties and that child ER skills and social difficulties would share common genetic and environmental influences. Moreover, it was predicted that parent and child ER skills would significantly predict child social difficulties. Finally, it was predicted that child angry and fearful biases in ER abilities would lead to greater social difficulties. 121 children (forming 69 twin pairs) ages 6-10 years and their parents participated in the study. Children and their parents completed an objective measure of ER abilities and subjective measures of child social difficulties. Separate analyses were conducted for child social difficulties by informant (parent or child) and type of difficulty (bullying or victimization). Results from this study suggest that genetic and non-shared environmental influences account for a significant portion of the variance in child ER skills, parent-reported bullying and victimization, and child-reported bullying. Conversely, environmental influences account for a significant portion of the variance in child-reported victimization. Child ER abilities and child-reported bullying shared common genetic influences. Path modeling demonstrated that parent ER skills predicted child ER skills and parent-reported bullying, whereas child ER skills predicted child-reported victimization. Finally, children who demonstrated an angry or fearful bias had greater involvement in bullying and were more victimized. These results underscore the importance of conceptualizing bullying and victimization from a biopsychosocial perspective that incorporates both biological and environmental influences on complex social behavior. Moreover, results in this study varied by informant, suggesting that it is important to gather information from multiple perspectives in order to gain the most comprehensive view of child behavior. Finally, these results suggest that helping children to achieve a more balanced perspective in their emotion recognition abilities may help reduce their involvement in socially maladaptive interactions.

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