Current Research Projects

Socioemotional Development in the Digital Age

Youth now develop in both non-digital and digital contexts. In our recently completed 5-year longitudinal SSHRC study, we observed that youth use digital means to regulate their emotions and this increased in the first year of the pandemic (Faulkner, Colasante, Lougheed, & Hollenstein, 2023). We also found  that 97% of mothers and 78% of youth identified digital issues (e.g., phone use, video games) as sources of conflict, with the majority identifying these as their most intense conflicts. In order to fully investigate how youth are meeting their developmental and emotion regulation needs in both digital and digital contexts, we will conduct a new 5- year SSHRC project starting in 2024 that will achieve 2 objectives: (1) To reveal and compare trajectories of adolescent digital and non-digital emotion regulation via experience sampling. (2) To discover the digitally oriented parenting processes that guide youth toward greater socioemotional competence via lab observations.

In preparation for that project, Katie Faulkner is conducting a psychometric study in 2023 to validate new measures of digital emotion regulation, digital emotion generation, and attitudes about digital technology. In addition, we are developing a new observational coding system to capture the dynamics of how parents and children negotiate autonomy and safety when in conflict over digital habits. 

Toward a More Comprehensive Understanding of Expressive Suppression

PhD candidate Megan Wylie's research program is dedicated to understanding how and why a ubiquitous form of expression control, suppression, can be both functional and problematic. She has already shown that suppression is successful for down regulating negative emotions (Wylie, Colasante, De France, Lin, & Hollenstein, 2023) and that adolescents suppress more with peers than with parents (Wylie, De France, & Hollenstein, 2023) in ESM studies. Building on her model of the suppression process, Megan developed the ESCAPE (Expressive Suppression by Context And Per Emotion) questionnaire, which has been completed in 3 studies. One of these studies includes experience sampling based on ESCAPE questions, and the final is an observational study examining how people suppress their emotions in real time. Megan's work is poised to have a huge impact on the emotion regulation field.

NSERC 2017-2022 & 2023-2028: 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 (Extant Data)

We just completed in 2023 a SSHRC Insight grant (2018 - 2023) intended to examine longitudinal changes in socioemotional flexibility and emotion regulation across the entire adolescent period and to understand this kind of flexibility in relation to other forms, such as cognitive flexibility, coping flexibility, and mindsets. We followed a cohort of 200 youth aged 11-12 at wave 1 who visited the the lab twice, a year apart, with their mother to complete measures of flexibility and emotion regulation as well as engage in positively and negatively charged discussions. COVID-19 lockdown shut down the lab portion after wave 2 so the remaining 3 annual measurement points were online questionnaires. We also added  experience sampling in wave 3 to capture the day-to-day emotional functioning of youth during the first year of the pandemic. We have only just begun to fully analyze these data - it will take years to fully understand the developmental and covid-related impacts for this cohort of youth. 

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 poised 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 the ongoing projects at the time (see below) provided an important "baseline" just prior to the pandemic that we followed 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 repeated our experience sampling via smartphone to track day-to-day emotional experiences and use of digital technology to regulate emotions. We are still working with these data and will publish more over the next few years to shed more light on emotion-related patterns across the pandemic period.  

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.

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 collaboration with our Australian colleague, Peter Koval, we have also demonstrated the reliability of the RESS in ESM and the correspondence to the questionnaire version (Medland, De France, Hollenstein, Mussoff, & Koval, 2020).   

The RESS questionnaire can be downloaded from our Resources page.

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 collaboration 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. 

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.

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 well-being, 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. 

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.

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 Lougheed & Hollenstein (2016). With Alexandra Tighe's MSc project following 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 roller coaster of adolescence.

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).

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 Jess 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 Eastabrook,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.

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.

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)

State Space Grid

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).

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.