The Relations of Children's Emotion Regulation to Their Vicarious Emotional Responses and Comforting Behaviors


  • This research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BNS-8807784) to the first two authors, and by a Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (K02 MN00903) to Nancy Eisenberg. The authors wish to express their appreciation to the administrators, teachers, students, and parents and Laird, Rover, Evans, and Hudson Elementary Schools for their assistance and participation. The authors also wish to thank Neil Bechtel, Joseph Campos, and Ernest Lindholm for their advice regarding technical matters, and Jane Bernzweig, Gus Carlo, Anna Lee Speer, Beth Haley, Richard Klein, Qhyrrae Michelieu, Tiffany Beggs, Joe Wright, Lorena Polazzi, and Sandy Burke for their assistance in data collection and coding.

Address correspondence to Richard A. Fabes, Department of Family Resources and Human Development, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 85287-2502.


The purpose of the present study was to examine the relations of children's emotional and behavioral regulation (as indexed by heart rate variability and coping styles) to their emotional and prosocial responses to a crying infant. Kindergarten and second-grade children's vicarious emotional responses (e.g., facial reactions and heart rate slope) and comforting behaviors were recorded while children heard a crying infant. The mothers of these children completed a measure designed to assess their children's coping responses when exposed to others in distress. It was found that children who were able to regulate their arousal (as assessed with heart rate variance) and typically responded instrumentally when exposed to others' needy states and conditions were relatively unlikely to become distressed and relatively likely to talk to and comfort the crying infant. Compared to boys, girls were found to be more responsive to the crying infant and were reported to engage in more direct, active coping responses when exposed to others in distress. The results are discussed in relation to research on emotion regulation and coping in interpersonal contexts.