Psychology, Department of



Julia C. Torquati

Date of this Version



Published in Social Development 15:4 (2006), pp. 591–611. Copyright © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Used by permission.


This study examined the additive and interactive effects of children’s trait vicarious emotional responsiveness and maternal negative emotion expression on children’s use of coping strategies. Ninety-five children (mean age = 5.87 years) and their mothers and teachers participated in the study. The mothers reported on their own negative emotion expression and the children’s empathic concern and personal distress tendencies. The mothers and teachers reported on the children’s use of avoidant, support-seeking, and aggressive-venting coping strategies. Empathic concern was positively associated with the children’s use of support seeking and negatively associated with the children’s use of aggressive venting, whereas personal distress showed the opposite pattern of associations. Maternal negative emotion expression moderated some associations between the children’s emotional responsiveness and coping. These findings support the hypothesis that children’s tendencies to experience empathic concern or personal distress indicate functionally distinct styles of emotional arousal that may have broader consequences for socially competent behavior in response to normative stressors.