Analyzing emotion, stress, and coping in families with adolescents in the field and in the laboratory

This project is part of the Swiss Priority Program (SPP):

Switzerland Towards the Future - Module: Individual and Society - Global project: Family life in Switzerland

The global project Family life in Switzerland sets out to describe the various forms of private cohabitation in present-day Swiss society and, at the same time, to lay the foundation for the long-term observation of changes in this domain. Though a few limited studies of this type do already exist, this will be the first attempt to offer a comprehensive overall view. On the one hand, the manifold forms of the family and the diverse ways in which it can function will be analysed in the context of the structure of society and social controls (family policy); on the other, attention will be paid to the practical ways in which, at the individual and the collective level, typical conflicts which arise among people living together are dealt with. What the partial projects have in common is that they all approach the matter from the viewpoint of life trajectory research.

A long term goal of the joint project would be to determine what kind of appraisal patterns and coping styles are related to the proposed family types and how the individual style of each family member defines and is defined by the other members and the family as a system. From a psychological point of view, one consequence of the rapid changes of values is that it becomes more difficult to predict and understand the cognitive, emotional and behavioral reaction of other people, especially between generations. Here, educational work on the importance and lawfulness of subjective appraisal patterns may help to further mutual understanding.

The global project brings together researchers from different fields (Sociology and Psychology) and different universities (Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, and Zurich). More information about global project and the participating groups can be found on the corresponding web page of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The individual project Analyzing emotion, stress, and coping in families with adolescents in the field and in the laboratory is headed by Dr. Susanne Kaiser and Dr. Thomas Wehrle.

The objective of this project is to study some aspects of the micro genetic origin of emotions on an individual and social/interactional level. The idea is to asses emotion regulation, stress and coping in the field and in the laboratory. The field study uses questionnaires designed to assess individual and social emotion regulation and coping with stress in families with adolescents. In the experimental part, a subgroup of the families taking part in the field study will participate in an interactive computer game experiment. The data collected in the field study should allow us to get information about more stable aspects of emotional regulations of each subject and of the families as a whole. This information can be used as a theoretical framework for the interpretation of the individual game strategies and emotional reactions in the game. On the other hand, the results of the laboratory study can provide important complements to the field data, which exclusively rely on verbal report.

Combining the experimental approach of the Geneva project with the field approach of the Fribourg project allows us to study the relation between emotion, stress and coping on two levels of analysis. When comparing the results from the laboratory part and the field part, the analyses on the first level aims to test common theoretical predictions in the field and in the laboratory (e.g., the role of the causal attribution or agency appraisal for the elicitation of and the differentiation between anger and sadness). The analysis of the results on the second level aims to test the validity of the results on individual differences. For example, differences in what we call game strategies are related to differences in preferring a specific coping behavior. These coping tendencies can be compared to the coping strategies found in the field study.