Transactional links between children daily emotions and internalizing symptoms: a six-wave ecological momentary assessment study

Reout Arbel, Tyler B. Mason, Genevieve F. Dunton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: This study explored the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between everyday emotion dimensions and internalizing symptoms during the transition to early adolescence. We tested associations between children’s intensity and instability of daily negative emotions (NE), positive emotions (PE), and daily NE differentiation (NED) with children’s self-reported and their mothers’ report of children’s internalizing symptoms, across six waves, each wave separated by six months. Methods: The sample included 199 ethnically diverse mother [Mage at baseline = 40.1 years (SD = 6.1] and child [Mage at baseline = 10.1 (SD = 0.90), 51% girls] dyads, who participated in six 7-day waves of ecological momentary assessment (EMA). During each wave, children reported on PE (i.e. happy and joyful) and NE (i.e. mad, sad, and stressed) up to eight random times per day through smartphone-based EMA. Children and mothers reported on children’s internalizing symptoms at each wave. We used random-intercept cross-lagged panel models (RI-CLPMs) to test within- and between-person effects. Results: At the within-person level, increased NE and decreased PE intensity, more unstable NE and PE, and decreased NED at any given wave were positively associated with children’s self-reported internalizing symptoms but not with mother-reported child symptoms. However, emotion dimensions did not predict child-reported nor mother-reported child symptoms at the next wave. At the between-person level, higher average NE, more unstable PE and NE, and lower NED were positively associated with average child-reported and mother-reported child internalizing symptoms. Conclusions: This study suggests that emotional intensity, instability, and differentiation could be conceptualized as manifestations of internalizing symptoms but not as risk factors for its progression, or residual manifestations of it, among typical children.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)68-77
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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