Toward a Developmental Model of Child Compliance: The Role of Emotion Regulation in Infancy



The present study examined the relation between early emotion regulation and later compliance. When infants were 5, 10, and 18 months of age, they participated in a frustration task. The degree to which they reacted negatively to the stimuli and the behaviors they used to regulate that response were coded. Baseline heart rate also was recorded and a measure of cardiac vagal tone (VNA) was derived. Several tasks (electrode placement, toy clean-up, and test situation) were administered to elicit compliance/noncompliance when the participants were 30 months of age. Results revealed that infants who demonstrated low levels of regulatory behavior were more likely to be noncompliant as toddlers. Several interaction effects suggested that the prediction to later noncompliance was also dependent upon the infants' level of reactivity. Cardiac vagal tone also was related to compliance but in a contradictory fashion. High VNA was related to noncompliance to toy clean-up, whereas low VNA was related to noncompliance to electrode placement. The data provide support for a developmental model of compliance that includes the ability to regulate emotional arousal.