Theory of mind, emotion recognition and temperament: associations with social functioning and mental health problems in adolescents

2017-02-14T01:48:04Z (GMT) by Newton, Emma Louise
Associations between social functioning and the development of mental health problems in adolescence are not well understood. Both social-cognitive and dispositional aspects of development, such as theory of mind (ToM), emotion recognition and temperament, impact upon social functioning and the development of mental health problems. It remains unclear how these aspects of development are affected by the developmental changes that occur during adolescence, and, in turn, how changes in these aspects of development may be linked to the development of social functioning and mental health difficulties during adolescence. This thesis by publication investigated how social-cognitive (ToM and emotion recognition) and dispositional (temperament) aspects of development are associated with social functioning and mental health problems in adolescence, using a cross-informant approach. Sixty-two 12-18 year-olds (29F/33M; M = 15 yrs 7mths, SD = 10mths), and one of their parents/guardians were recruited from Catholic secondary colleges and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Melbourne, Australia. Adolescents completed measures of ToM, emotion recognition and current mental health problems (Youth Self-Report). Ratings of adolescents’ social and role functioning were completed by doctoral level psychology clinicians. Parents rated adolescents’ temperament, social competence and current mental health problems (Child Behavior Checklist). This thesis comprised three related empirical papers. The first empirical paper presented an investigation of whether parent- and clinician-rated social functioning was associated with youth- and parent-rated mental health problems in adolescents. Moderate to strong cross-informant correspondence for ratings of social functioning and mental health problems were found. Higher parent-rated social competence was associated with lower levels of parent-rated mental health problems for adolescents, while higher levels of clinician-rated social and role functioning were associated with lower levels of youth-rated mental health problems. The second empirical paper reported an investigation of whether ToM, emotion recognition and temperament were associated with clinicians’ and parents’ ratings of social and role functioning. Lower levels of shyness were associated with higher levels of clinician-rated social functioning. Better ToM performance and verbal ability were associated with higher levels of clinician-rated role functioning. Lower emotionality and lower shyness and strong verbal ability were associated with higher levels of parent-rated social competence. The third empirical paper presented an examination of associations among ToM, emotion recognition, temperament and social and role functioning, with ratings of mental health problems in adolescents. High emotionality and lower levels of parent- or clinician-rated social functioning were associated with higher levels of parent-rated mental health problems. High emotionality, high shyness and lower clinician-rated role functioning were also associated with higher levels of parent-rated mental health problems. Moreover, poorer recognition of neutral expressions and lower levels of parent- or clinician-rated social or role functioning were associated with higher levels of youth-rated mental health problems. The results of these studies combine to offer an improved understanding of how individual differences in social-cognitive (ToM and emotion recognition) and dispositional (temperament) aspects of development are associated with social functioning and mental health problems in adolescence. Common features of social functioning difficulties (e.g. ToM and temperament) and adolescent mental health problems (e.g. emotion recognition, temperament and social and role functioning) were highlighted. Differences in patterns of association were evident when cross-informant ratings of social functioning and mental health problems were used. Findings suggest that multiple informants may provide different perspectives on adolescents’ social and emotional functioning according to the social context. Implications of these results for school communities, clinicians, adolescents and their families were considered. Results suggested that adolescents who present with social or role functioning difficulties may benefit from interventions focused on improving mentalising ability (ToM) and emotion regulation skills. Adolescents with mental health problems may benefit from emotion recognition skills (e.g. learning to recognise and accurately interpret facial emotions), emotion regulation skills and inclusion in social skills or vocational and educational support programs.