Current Research Projects

Digital Emotional Support: Navigating the Effects of Social Distancing during and after the COVID-19 Crisis (Queen's University) 

The sudden implementation of measures to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 in March 2020 led to a unique and common experience across the world. Chief among these were school closures and restrictions to stay at home. These changes in the ability to work, learn, and socialize, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, have evoked a range of emotions and changes in mental health. The Adolescent Dynamics Lab was uniquely posied to answer critical questions about the nature of these changes to better understand how youth, families, and Queen's students are navigating the relationships, emotions, and mental health. The samples from our ongoing projects (see below) provide an important "baseline" just prior to the pandemic that we are now following up to be able to examine individual differences in responses. This Queen's University Rapid Response grant supports a follow-up of our latest study in the Late Adolescent Study of Emotion Regulation (LASER) project. In May/June of 2020, and then again in October/November 2020, we are repeating our experience sampling via smartphone to track day-to-day emotional experiences and use of digital technology to regulate emotions. Specifically, as a follow up of our examination of digital social support (Colasante, Lin, De France, & Hollenstein, 2020), we will look for changes in the use and efficacy of digital means to maintain social connection and give/receive emotional support. In concert with researchers around the world, we are also including in depth questionnaire assessments of the personal impact of the pandemic restrictions to see what factors explain emotional changes from before to during the crisis. We are applying this same set of measures to two other longitudinal studies so we can understand the impact on adolescents and their families (see below).   

Socioemotional Development in the Digital Age

The 21st century has provided a wide range of novel digital experiences and contexts, changing the way that youth spend their time and interact with others. While there has been the typical doom and gloom that accompanies new technology (e.g., novels, radio, TV), the research to date has been limited, too often low quality, and sensationalized. Moreover, devleopmental scientists have generally not pivoted their research or theoretical understanding to digital contexts.  As a result, we still do not know much about digital experiences and impacts. Because our research program is dedicated to the understanding of socioemotional functioning and development, we have reconfigured our studies to capture various forms and functions of digital experienes.

Tyler Colasante, our post-doctoral researcher, is leading the lab into this new and exciting direction. As we argue in a recent paper (Hollenstein & Colasante, 2020), the forces of development, emotions, and social interaction have not changed suddenly in the past decade. Indeed, digital devices and platforms such as social media are designed to work with every human's need to connect, feel validated, play, and cope with their emotions. Thus, claims of the universal deleterious impact of digital experiences are overblown. Like developmental patterns in the 20th century, vulnerability and opportunity varies across individuals and time, and now across the forms and functions of digitally-mediated expereinces. Thus, we have designed our studies to capture both the positive and negative associations of digital experiences and, importantly, the complex interplay between digital behaviours and emotional functioning. In our first paper (Colasante, Lin, De France, & Hollenstein, 2020), we have shown that digital natives (undergraduate students) experience just as much benefit from social support received digitally as with in-person support. We have also developed a range of measures that are currently being used in questionnaire and ESM form to tap into how youth use digital devices in relation to their emotions, emotion regulation, and relationships.  

The Development of Flexibility and Emotion Regulation across Adolescence (SSHRC)

We were awarded a SSHRC Insight grant (2018 - 2023) that will finally examine longitudinal changes in socioemotional flexibility and emotion regulation across the entire adolescent period. We will also delve deeper into understand this kind of flexibility in relation to other forms, such as cognitive flexibility, coping flexibility, and mindsets. Emotion regulation will be measured through self-reports and observations. We are following a cohort of 200 youth aged 11-12 at wave 1 who visit the lab once a year with their mother to complete measures of flexibility and emotion regulation as well as engage in positively and negatively charged discussions. In future years we will add experience sampling to capture the day-to-day emotional functioning of youth as well. With PhD student Alexandra Tighe and MSc student Megan Wylie, we seek to answer several primary questions:

What is the relationship between socioemotional flexibility and cognitive, and mindset flexibility and how do these develop across adolescence?

How are youth regulating their emotions and how do these develop?

How do forms of flexibility and emotion regulation relate to psychosocial functioning (e.g.,  relationship quality, stress, and mood)?

COVID-19 UPDATE: With the onset of the global pandemic, our primary purpose of understanding normative emotional development across adolescence has been compromised. Instead, our findings are now poised to show the different ways that youth and their mothers have adapted to these sweeping changes in every aspect of life that have occurred right as they were entering adolescence. We have completed the second of the 5 longitudinal annual lab visits by early 2020, so these will serve as a "baseline" measure from the "beforetimes". We have adapted this project to the new circumstances in two critical ways. First, as with the COVID-19 study on Queen's undergraduates, we have inserted an online assessment of the impact of the pandemic on mothers and youth and their family environment in May/June 2020. Not only will this allow us to use previous measurements as predictors of these pandemic responses but also as moderators of the longitudinal trajectories over 5 years. Second, because the possibility of lab visits is uncertain in 2020/2021, the third longitudinal wave will be online, including experience sampling of day-to-day emotions and digital habits, as well as further assessment of pandemic-related impacts.  

Peer Socioemotional Flexibility

Following years of work examining the affective dynamics of dyadic interactions (e.g., Hollenstein, Granic, Snyder, & Stoolmiller, 2004; Hollenstein & Lewis, 2006; Hollenstein, 2007; Lunkenheimer, Olsen, Hollenstein, Sameroff, & Winter, 2011),and the development of a model of flexibility at three time scales (Hollenstein, Lichtwarck-Aschoff, & Potworowski, 2013; Hollenstein, 2015), PhD student Tiffany Tsui is leading the team for a study on socioemotional flexibility in best friend dyads. Remarkably, although there have been many studies of parent-child flexibility, the flexibility among peers remains unexplored.

Regulation of Emotion Systems Survey (RESS) 

Led by Kalee DeFrance as an extension of her Master’s thesis work, we completed a series of studies based on an emotion systems perspective to identify which ER strategies are most proximal for down regulating negative emotions by having an impact on one of the primary domains of the emotion system: cognition, physiological arousal, or behaviour. There are 6: Distraction, Rumination, Reappraisal, Relaxation, Expressive Engagement, and Expressive Suppression. DeFrance (2015) developed the RESS self-report questionnaire as well as a smart phone app to measure day-to-day use of these six emotion regulation acts. Our first paper detailed how the RESS can be used for variable-centered (i.e. scale means) and person-centered (i.e., emotion regulation strategy repertoires) analyses (DeFrance & Hollenstein, 2017). Next, we compared ER use across three age cohorts: adolescents, young adults, and older adults (DeFrance & Hollenstein, 2019).  

We now include the RESS in all of our studies and include measures of all 6 strategies in our experience sampling studies, such as YES and LASER. In colaboration with our Australian colleague, Peter Koval, we have also demonstrated the reliability of the RESS in ESM and the correspondance to the questionnaire version (Medland, De France, Hollenstein, Mussoff, & Koval, 2020).   

The RESS questionnaire can be downloaded from our Resources page.

Youth Emotion Study (YES)

Kalee De France's dissertation is a 4-wave longitudinal study of 188 youth (aged 13-15 at time 1) to examine trajectories of emotion regulation, mental health, relationships, and other emotion-related variables across 2 years. At the first wave, these youth also completed  two weeks of experience sampling to capture day-to-day emotions and use of emotion regulation strategies. This project fills important gaps in our understanding of youth social and emotional development. We currently have three papers under review depicting emotion regulation strategy choice and success, the trajectories of emotion regulation strategies, and the role of emotional mindsets in the development of internalizing symptoms. 

COVID-19 UPDATE: Although the YES project was considered complete, we saw an opportunity to follow-up with these youth during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In colaboration with Kalee's current post-doctoral supervisors, Dale Stack and Lisa Serbin, we have measured the personal impact of the pandemic on these youth, who are now 16-18 years old. By using their trajectories of emotion regulation, mental health, relationships, and other emotion-related variables as predictors, we can begin to understand how and for whom social isolation and other repercussions of the pandemic response has been most difficult. 

The Mindset Project

Inspired by Carol Dweck's concept of growth vs. fixed mindsets and recent adaptations that have shown the importance of emotion-related mindsets, this project is an attempt to more deeply explore emotional mindsets and relations to emotion regulation, mood, and internalizing symptoms. Led by PhD student Vanessa Schell, this project will first examine the relations among mindsets in several domains (e.,g., intelligence, emotions, personality) with the ultimate goal of relating mindsets to readiness for change in treatment and intervention contexts.

The Expressive Suppression Project

Megan Wylie is dedicating her efforts to better understand one of the most frequently researched emotion regulation strategies: expressive suppression. Remarkably, we actual know very little about how suppression is used in day to day life as almost every study measures suppression through experimental instructions to suppress or questionnaires that capture the frequency of attempts to suppress. Furthermore, previous research has consistently shown that attempts to suppress are correlated with poor mental health and wellbeing, yet suppression is a necessary and functional strategy to maintain social connection and conform to cultural display rules (e.g., feigning delight at an unwanted gift). Thus, Megan's projects are all geared toward understanding how people spontaneously use suppression in their day-to-day lives, differentiating attempts to suppress from the degree to which those attempts are successful, and how does suppression develop. In her first year, Megan has drilled down into the day-to-day use of suppression via ESM to show that those who report using suppression most often also report greater success at regulating emotions across multiple real-world instances (Wylie, Colasante, De France, Lin, & Hollenstein, under review). Her Master's work is designed to capture instances of suppression during parent-adolescent conflict. Long-term, Megan will continue to develop more fine-gained understanding of the forms and functions of suppression to help differentiate when and for whom it is beneficial or compromising. 

NSERC 2017-2022: Emotion System Regulation: Concordance, Dynamics, and Time Scales

We will continue with our NSERC-funded research program to work toward our long-term objective to provide deeper understanding of ER processes from childhood through adulthood through both theory and methods. The overarching framework is to view emotion regulation as a dynamic process, integrating the three primary emotional channels of physiology, cognition, and expression, and to conceptualize and measure these processes at several time scales. The next 5 years will be focused on answering 5 primary research questions:

What is emotion regulation?

How do dynamic physiological, cognitive, and behavioural processes interact and change as a function of ER?

How do intra- and inter-personal ER processes relate to one another?

How do ER processes at different time scales (e.g., moment-to-moment, day-to-day, year-to-year) relate to one another?

How do all of these processes relate to individual differences in psychosocial functioning across the lifespan?

Completed Projects

The MindLight Project: A Video Game Intervention to Reduce Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

For this OMHF-funded collaboration with Dr. Isabel Granic and Dr. Sarosh Khalid-Khan, we ran randomized control trials to test the effectiveness of a video game intervention. MindLight, created by Dr. Granic and a team of game developers from The Play Nice Institute, incorporates several evidence-based strategies including relaxation and exposure techniques, attention bias modification methods, and neurofeedback mechanics that together produce an immersive game world through which children learn to manage and overcome anxiety symptoms. We just submitted our paper on 8-16 year old children that reports that youth in the MindLight group had greater reductions in anxiety symptoms compared to the online CBT comparison group. Now that the grant has finished, we are trying to understand how the game works in more detail. Using undergraduate samples, we are looking for patterns in game play and psychophysiological arousal related to the beneficial impact of playing MindLIght.

The Emotional Rollercoaster

Alexandra Tighe just completed a 2-year follow-up of a sample of mothers and adolescent daughters who completed the Emotional Rollercoaster task developed by lab alumni Dr. Jess Lougheed as a test of the Flex3 model of socioemotional flexibility (Hollenstein, 2015; Hollenstein et al., 2013). The task is a series of 5 discussions about how mothers and daughters felt particular emotions about each other that alternate between positive and negative valence: Happy, Sad/worried, Proud, Frustrated, and Grateful. At time 1 the daughters were at mid-adolescence and we found associations between flexibility and relationship quality and anxious and depressive symptoms, as reported in Lougheeed & Hollenstein (2016). With Alexandra Tighe's MSc project folliwng up on these mother-daughter dyads, it appears that flexibility is relatively stable across this age span. In the coming year we will examine the psychophysiological data to better understand the development of mothers and daughters as they ride the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence.

Shame and Victimization in Adolescence (SSHRC)

This SSHRC-funded collaboration with Dr. Wendy Craig examined how the experience of and proneness to shame can mediate the onset and maintenance of peer victimization. This three-year project combined large-scale community sampling over three longitudinal waves with examinations of the real-time processes of shame and rejection in a subsample at wave 2. So far, two papers have come from this project. The first showed how shame mediated the relationship between victimization and internalizing symptoms (Irwin, Li, Craig, & Hollenstein, in press a). The second study showed that shame was a mediating mechanism in the maintenance of chronic victimization  (Irwin, Li, Craig, & Hollenstein, in press b).

Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Emotion Dynamics

Using psychophysiological, observational, experimental, and self-report measures, this study examines the development of adolescent emotion regulation in response to social stressors. Our research questions include:

  • How do profiles of psychophysiological, observed, and self-reported emotional responses to social stress relate to emotion regulation habits and internalizing problems in adolescence? In a line of research led by Dianna Lanteigne, we are examining individual differences in discordance across the three primary domains of emotional responding: Arousal (e.g., heart rate), Expression (e.g., self-conscious affect) (PDF, 32 KB), and Experience (self-reported appraisals). In the first study, we showed that girls with high Experience and Expression, but low Arousal had more difficulty regulating their emotions and more internalizing problems (Lanteigne, Flynn, Eastabrook, & Hollenstein, under review). In the second study, we found that giving a spontaneous speech in front of an experimenter rather than alone in an empty room was associated with high Experience and Expression as well as greater discordance, especially at the beginning of the speech (Hollenstein, Lanteigne, Flynn, Mackey, Glozman, & Theriault, under revision). With the current sample, Lanteigne, Flynn, Eastabrook, & Hollenstein (2014) have found that adolescents classified as “Experience-Expressive” (high experience, moderate arousal, high expression) or “Suppressive” (high experience, high arousal, low expression) had more problematic socioemotional functioning than those classified as “Expressive” (low experience, moderate arousal, high expression) or “Low-Reactive” (low experience, low arousal, low expression).
  • Is a limited repertoire of emotion regulation strategies in adolescence associated with internalizing problems? This line of research is directed by Jessica Lougheed and uses the same analysis approach as Lanteigne, Eastabrook, and Hollenstein (submitted), latent profile analysis. We examined profiles of suppression, reappraisal, concealing, adjusting, and emotional engagement to test whether the beneficial effects of emotion regulation (ER) have less to do with the use of singular, “adaptive” strategies, and more to do with having a range of strategies to flexibly deploy according to situational demands (Lougheed & Hollenstein, 2012). Emotion regulation profiles with high scores on only one or two indicators (e.g., rigid emotion regulation) were associated with higher levels of internalizing problems, whereas profiles with average to high scores on several indicators (e.g., flexible emotion regulation) were associated with lower levels of internalizing problems.
  • Does emotion regulation mediate the association between emotional awareness and internalizing problems? Former graduate student, Dr. Jenny Eastabroook,tested whether emotion regulation is dependent on emotional awareness (Eastabrook, Flynn, & Hollenstein, 2014). Subsequently, she examined this in the current sample to further understand how low emotional awareness affects the development of emotion regulation skills and subsequently mental health outcomes.

The Intra-individual Dynamics of the Arousal and Regulation of Social Stress

In the ADL, we examine the dynamic integration of psychophysiology (heart rate, skin conductance), with self-reported and observationally coded affective behaviour using variations of a spontaneous speech paradigm. In these designs, we record the psychophysiological measures across several tasks (paced breathing, baseline, speech, and recovery) to capture the increase in arousal due to the speech and rate of decrease during the recovery period. Participants are not informed of the speech beforehand and must construct the speech on the spot – thus eliciting mild social anxiety and possibly shame. The video of the speech is coded later using the Self-Conscious Affect Code.

  • What are the relations between activity in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems during stress and age? The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system modulates physiological arousal in the body whereas the parasympathetic branch is involved in the down-regulation of arousal. In a recent study on adolescent girls aged 12-23, we found that sympathetic responses to social stress were positively associated with age but parasympathetic responses (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia or RSA) were negatively associated (Hollenstein, McNeely, Eastabrook, Mackey, & Flynn, 2012).
  • How does the presence of a stranger (experimenter) affect speech-induced arousal? In one study, there were two conditions (experimenter present or no one else in the room with the participant) for the speech. Arousal was much greater when the experimenter was present (Hollenstein, Lanteigne, Flynn, Mackey, Glozman, & Theriault, under review). In a pilot study on early adolescents, participants gave the speech with the experimenter present but either had or did not have his/her best friend present as well. Arousal was much lower with the presence of a friend.
  • What observable behaviours are associated with variations in physiological arousal and recovery? The Self-Conscious Affect Code (SCAC) was developed to record the intensity of participants behaviours during the speech in four domains: body tension, eye gaze direction, mouth/facial tension, and verbal comments. Those who were less aroused and less nervous were also more “fidgety”. Conversely, those who were more aroused tended to freeze and become rigid. The code was revised (SCAC2) (PDF, 32 KB) and augmented by a global rating system (Global Ratings of Self-Conscious Affect: GROSCA) (PDF, 113 KB) by Dianna Lanteigne.
  • What are the real-time dynamics among physiological, observational, and self-report measures? Following the recovery period, participants viewed their speech on a monitor and provided moment-to-moment reports of how “nervous” they were. Thus, there are synchronized time series for interbeat intervals (heart), SCAC codes, and self-report. These are being prepared for analysis using state space grids to explore the temporal integration of these three measures.

The State Space Grid Project

State space grids were developed by Marc Lewis and colleagues to depict trajectories of behaviour along two ordinal dimensions. In 2004, we released the first version of GridWare – a Java program that is available for free download at This program allows users to display, manipulate, and derive measures from any synchronized categorical time series (see example below). We are currently in the process of adapting this technique for use with both psychophysiological (e.g., heart rate) and categorical (e.g., emotional states) time series. A new state space grid program is in the works. There is now a state space grids book available that describes how to conduct these analyses (Hollenstein, 2013)

The Three Body Problem. As has been known in physics for centuries, the dynamics of two are much easier to model than the dynamics of three. In order to extend the state space analysis beyond dyadic interactions, a previous graduate student, Lindsay Lavictoire, published this from her master's thesis (Lavictoire, Hollenstein, Stoolmiller, & Snyder,2012). The temporal dynamics of three kindergarten peers were shown to be associated with sociometric status as well as internalizing and externalizing problems. I have extended this to a comparison of mother-father-adolescent triads with or without a depressed adolescent (Hollenstein, Allen, & Sheeber, under review).

Individual Differences in Emotions and Emotion Regulation in Adolescence

There are no new emotions that emerge during adolescence. Therefore, the emotion-related changes of this developmental period must be due to how emotions are aroused and how they are regulated. Using online questionnaires in concert with the above mentioned studies, we have data from hundreds of adolescents on emotions and moods, emotion regulation, coping, and interpersonal relationships. These data have been and are currently being analyzed by students to examine individual differences related to age, gender, or psychopathological outcomes (e.g., depressive symptoms). These projects include:

  • Shame, Depressive Symptoms and Coping: Found that avoidant coping partially mediated the relationship between shame and depressive symptoms in adolescent boys and girls. (DeRubeis & Hollenstein, 2009).
  • Shame and Self-Conscious Affect during a Socially Stressful Situation: The first test of the Self Conscious Affect Code. Found relations between behaviour elicited by social stress and shame. (SCAC Manual: Hollenstein & Glozman, unpublished manual)
  • Gender Differences in Emotional Suppression, Acceptance and Relations to Depressive Symptoms: Emotional suppression is associated with depressive symptoms. However, a conundrum emerges when considering gender differences: males suppress more than females but females have greater depressive symptoms. This study revealed that emotional acceptance can explain this conundrum. (Flynn, Hollenstein, & Mackey, 2010).
  • The Adolescent Transition Questionnaire: This self- and parent-report questionnaire was developed in order to detect when adolescents may be experiencing a period of rapid change. By detecting the age period of change for each individual, which can occur anywhere between the ages of 11 and 16, we hope to be able to identify critical windows of vulnerability and opportunity in an adolescent’s life.