Infants innately relieve stress by crying, turning their heads or maintaining eye contact. Adults manage emotional tension using problem-solving or by seeking support. A new study by a University of Missouri human development expert describes how adolescents' developing personalities and coping habits affect their behaviors toward others.
"We're each born with some personality tendencies; for example, we see that babies are fussy or calm," said Gustavo Carlo, the Millsap Professor of Diversity in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies. "Those characteristics can change over time as people experience certain events or as a result of their parents, peers or communities. At the same time, as we get older, our personalities become more stable."
Carlo and his colleagues surveyed 1,557 students ages 12-15 years old in Valencia, Spain, to measure the adolescents' feelings toward others, their past prosocial and physically aggressive behaviors, their emotional stability, and how they manage stress.
Carlo found that empathetic adolescents were more likely to use problem-focused coping, which aims to reduce or eliminate the source of the stress. These adolescents also were more likely to perform prosocial behaviors that benefit others, such as volunteering, donating money or helping friends with problems. Conversely, emotionally unstable, impulsive adolescents relied more on emotion-focused coping tactics such as venting, avoidance or distraction, and they showed more frequent signs of aggression.
"Empathetic kids are generally very good at regulating their emotions and tend not to lose their tempers," Carlo said. "When you're good at regulating your emotions, you're less concerned about yourself and more considerate of other people. On the other hand, impulsive children are more self-focused and have difficulty engaging in problem-focused coping."