Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 42, Issue 10, pp 1573–1582 | Cite as

Emotional Reactivity and Exposure to Household Stress in Childhood Predict Psychological Problems in Adolescence

  • Benjamin G. Shapero
  • Laurence Steinberg
Empirical Research


In recent years, research has examined the role of heightened emotional reactivity and poor regulation on maladjustment during childhood and adolescence. Although much of this research has shown a direct link between high emotional reactivity and maladjustment, there is less research on the ways in which reactivity interacts with contextual factors. Using data from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), the current study asks how emotional reactivity in childhood, household chaos, and household income impact changes in emotional and behavioral problems between childhood and adolescence. Participants in the SECCYD were followed from birth until adolescence. Of these, 958 youth (52 % male; 80 % Caucasian, 13 % African American, 2 % Asian, and 5 % Other) who completed measures at age 15 were included in the current study. Results indicate that emotional reactivity and low household income during childhood directly predict higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems in adolescence. In contrast, the impact of household chaos on adolescent mental health depends on the child’s emotional reactivity. Specifically, the adverse impact of household chaos on emotional problems was observed among adolescents who were highly emotionally reactive as children, but not among their less reactive counterparts. Taken together, the relationship between an individual’s childhood context and temperament are important aspects in the prediction of outcomes in adolescents.


Emotion regulation Adolescence Stress Poverty Internalizing Externalizing 



The NICHD study was directed by a Steering Committee and supported through a cooperative agreement (5 U10 HD027040). The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the named authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institutes of Health, or individual members of the Network. Members of the Steering Committee of the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, listed in alphabetical order, were: Jay Belsky (Birkbeck University of London), Cathryn Booth-LaForce (University of Washington), Robert H. Bradley (Arizona State University), Celia A. Brownell (University of Pittsburgh), Margaret Burchinal (University of California, Irvine), Susan B. Campbell (University of Pittsburgh), Elizabeth Cauffman (University of California, Irvine), Alison Clarke-Stewart (University of California, Irvine), Martha Cox (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Robert Crosnoe (University of Texas, Austin), Sarah L. Friedman (Institute for Public Research, CNA), James A. Griffin (NICHD), Bonnie Halpern-Felsher (University of California, San Francisco), Willard Hartup (University of Minnesota), Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University), Daniel Keating (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Bonnie Knoke (RTI International), Tama Leventhal (Tufts University), Kathleen McCartney (Harvard University), Vonnie C. McLoyd (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Fred Morrison (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Philip Nader (University of California, San Diego), Marion O’Brien (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), Margaret Tresch Owen (University of Texas, Dallas), Ross Parke (University of California, Riverside), Robert Pianta (University of Virginia), Kim M. Pierce (University of California, Irvine), A. Vijaya Rao (RTI International), Glenn I. Roisman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Susan Spieker (University of Washington), Laurence Steinberg (Temple University), Elizabeth Susman (Pennsylvania State University), Deborah Lowe Vandell (University of California, Irvine), and Marsha Weinraub (Temple University).

Author Contributions

B.G.S. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, performed statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript. L.S. participated in the design and interpretation of the data, coordination of the study and measurement, and overall guidance and revision of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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