Archival Report| Volume 6, ISSUE 1, P89-98, January 2021

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Labeling Emotional Stimuli in Early Childhood Predicts Neural and Behavioral Indicators of Emotion Regulation in Late Adolescence

Published:September 11, 2020DOI:



      Effective emotion regulation (ER) may be supported by 1) accurate emotion identification, encoding, and maintenance of emotional states and related brain activity of regions involved in emotional response (i.e., amygdala, ventral/posterior insula) and 2) cognitive processes that implement reframing, supported by activation in cognitive control brain regions (e.g., frontal, insular, and parietal cortices). The purpose of this project was to examine how emotion labeling ability in early childhood is related to ER concurrently and prospectively.


      Data from a prospective longitudinal study of youths at risk for depression, including measures of emotion labeling (i.e., Facial Affect Comprehension Evaluation) and ER ability (i.e., Emotion Regulation Checklist) and strategy use (i.e., Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, Children’s Response Style Questionnaire), and functional magnetic resonance imaging data during a sadness ER task (N = 139) were examined.


      Findings from multilevel modeling and linear regression suggested that greater emotion labeling ability of more difficult emotions in early childhood was associated with enhanced parent-reported ER in adolescence, but not with a tendency to engage in adaptive or maladaptive ER strategies. Recognition of fear and surprise predicted greater activation in cortical regions involved in cognitive control during an ER of sadness task, including in the insula, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, and inferior frontal gyrus.


      These findings suggest that early ability to identify and label difficult facial emotions in early childhood is associated with better ER in adolescence and enhanced activity of cognitive control regions of the brain.


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