An Exploratory Analysis of Emotion Dynamics Between Mothers and Adolescents During Conflict Discussions

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Dynamic patterns of influence between parents and children have long been considered key to understanding family relationships. Despite this, most observational research on emotion in parent–child interactions examines global behaviors at the expense of exploring moment-to-moment fluctuations in emotions that are important for relational outcomes. Using recurrence quantification analysis (RQA) and growth curve analysis, this investigation explored emotion dynamics during parent–adolescent conflict interactions, focusing not only on concurrently shared emotional states but also on time-lagged synchrony of parents’ and adolescents’ emotions relative to one another. Mother–adolescent dyads engaged in a 10-min conflict discussion and reported on their satisfaction with the process and outcome of the discussion. Emotions were coded using the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF) and were collapsed into the following categories: negativity, positivity, and validation/interest. RQA and growth curve analyses revealed that negative and positive emotions were characterized by a concurrently synchronous pattern across all dyads, with the highest recurrence rates occurring around simultaneity. However, lower levels of concurrent synchrony of negative emotions were associated with higher discussion satisfaction. We also found that patterns of negativity differed with age: Mothers led negativity in dyads with younger adolescents, and adolescents led negativity in dyads with older adolescents. In contrast to negative and positive emotions, validation/interest showed the time-lagged pattern characteristic of turn-taking, and more highly satisfied dyads showed stronger patterns of time-lagged coordination in validation/interest. Our findings underscore the dynamic nature of emotions in parent–adolescent interactions and highlight the important contributions of these moment-to-moment dynamics toward overall interaction quality.

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