Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Emotional development in adolescence

Emotional development in adolescence:
How does emotionality develop during adolescence?


Emotions are responses to antecedents or environmental stimuli. Reactions to antecedents are subjective (personal evaluation of one's emotional state) at a physiological level; which causes an arousal and stress response via the peripheral nervous system (McLaughlin et al., 2015). Emotions can be difficult to regulate at any stage of life, especially for those who are maturing into adults. Adolescence begins around the onset of physical puberty and ends with the assumption of adult roles. Emotional development is an important aspect when youths are maturing. Those who are developing through the teenage years are learning what their emotions are as they play an important role in the day to day life and are often changing.

Adolescents' average emotional states become progressively more negative from early to middle adolescence (Larson et al., 2002). Late adolescence is associated with a slowing of emotional changes from early adolescence onwards (Larson et al., 2002). Throughout adolescence, social change can contribute to these emotional developments as shown in the study by McLaughlin et al. ( 2015). Youth are spending most of their time in school, and, during those hours, they are creating important relationships with their peers. At that time building connections are helped with the mediums such as social media[awkward expression?]. Adolescents are more likely to experience rapid emotional states and experience intense emotions (McLaughlin et al., 2015). Negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, envy, and fear, seem to overwhelm adolescents as they cause emotional reactivity discussed in the Hare et al. (2008) study. This study reflected how stressful events can cause massive negative impacts.

Teenagers are depicted to be typically moody; this book topic explains the whys and hows of these emotional changes through the physiology of the brain. The amygdala and other brain regions have a detrimental role in emotional regulation, particularly in aggression and risk-taking behaviour (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). Lastly, what happens when emotions are not developed at the right age? The chapter discusses how those with autism spectrum disorder often have trouble recognising their own and others' emotions.

Understanding emotions on the daily basisEdit

Preteens and teenagers go through significant developmental changes throughout daily life. Physiological parts of the brain are finishing their development, and adolescents experience more intense positive and negative emotions because of these changes. As they experience these intense emotions, they transition through emotional states more rapidly (McLaughlin et al., 2015).

  • How do emotions change throughout school?
  • Who can influence emotionality?
  • What can help adolescents who are feeling emotionally distressed?


School is a large portion of a youth's life. They spend 6-8 hours of their day there, learning, playing and socially interacting. Those who are adolescents'[grammar?] are creating and forming new social groups. Adolescent relationships are unstable, especially for girls, as less than half of their friendships continue over a year (Davey et al., 2008). As there is a significant dynamic change in social groups, this presents challenges to navigate in everyday life (McLaughlin et al., 2015). Adolescents are coming to a stage where they are increasingly making important decisions on how to navigate their life based on little experience. This combination of independence and inexperience is overwhelming for high-school children (McLaughlin et al., 2015).

Case study
  • Counselor Kelly says that during an average school day, students appear to be "regular teenagers doing regular teenage stuff—until you see their neighbourhoods and what they have to walk through every day to get to school." For many, unfortunately, home can cause stress, hunger, anxiety, neglect, and even danger (Hoffman, 2017).
  • Kelly's students have reported that the sounds of gunshots are familiar in many of the students' neighbourhoods. An 8th-grade middle school girl was shot and killed in the crossfires of gang violence. One set of siblings saw their father get shot in front of them, and a 7th grader lost an older brother to gang violence (Hoffman, 2017).
  • Thus emotional support during school is crucial, as it not helps those struggling students but helps them grow academically.
  • Counsellor Kelly says, "I am cautious about the words that I use. I want to plant positive seeds of you are worthy, you are smart, you can finish, you can do it". Praise surpasses criticism and caring reflected through the schooling experience (Hoffman, 2017).

Friendships (see Figure 1) are of extraordinary importance to the psychosocial development of youth, especially for the overall well-being of adolescents. On the other hand, friendships can harm youth who experience relational (e.g., rumours) and physical (e.g., hitting or punching) forms of bullying (Wood et al., 2016). These can cause emotional reactions as the body has a physical reaction to these negative life events. Emotional reactions are reflected in James-Lange's theory of emotion; these stressors pile up (Stimulus), causing a bodily reaction that then transitions into emotion (Reeve, 2018, pp. 314–315). Adolescents face these challenges as they attempt to understand and manage their changing bodies, relationships, and responsibilities (McLaughlin et al., 2015).

Figure 1. Adolescents at school


In Erikson's 8 Stages of Progressive Psychosocial Development theory, he characterised adolescence as a time of identity crisis (Adler & Clark, 1991). In Erikson's perspective, the stages of life are interactive events in which developments at one level or stage become building blocks on which later events depend (Adler & Clark, 1991). In each stage, the dialectic dynamics struggle between two opposing tendencies without which a final quality could not emerge (Adler & Clark, 1991).

In a successful transition, specific roles and values are established as essential, and the adolescent feels obligated and committed to them. Balancing commitments provides a sense of identity (a sense of continuity and consistency of the self over time). Additionally, other challenges can confuse one's identity or role (Identity vs confusion) (Adler & Clark, 1991).

8 Stages of development (Erikson, 1994).
Ages Stage
0-18 months Trust vs. Mistrust
18 months to 3 years Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
3 to 5 years Initiative vs. Guilt
6 to 11 years Industry vs. Inferiority
12 to 18 years Identity vs. Confusion
18 to 40 years Intimacy vs. Isolation
40 to 65 years Generativity vs. Stagnation
65 years onwards Integrity vs. Despair

Within the school, adolescents attempt to define who they are as a person in terms of career, religion and sexual identity, where they are heading and how they fit into society. As part of their search, they often change their minds and experiment with new looks, new areas of study, new relationships and new group memberships (Sigelman & Rider, 2014). Through all these changes, emotions are equally and simultaneously developing[vague].

Erik Erikson

Who was Erik Erikison?


Was a German-American developmental psychologist

Why was he so significant towards emotional development?

His 8 stages of development
Focus question

Out of Eriksons[grammar?] 8 stages of development what stage do adolescents fit into?:

Identity vs Confusion
Initiative vs. Guilt
Industry vs. Inferiority
Intimacy vs. isolation

Social mediaEdit

Figure 6. Photo of mobile device

Youths' use of social media has skyrocketed in the 21st century. Some argue that adolescents and young adults are addicted to electronic devices[factual?]. However, in Dolev-Cohen and Barak's (2013) study, adolescents' emotional states improved when they used instant messaging. They discovered that adolescents who conversed online with their face-to-face friends on social media strengthened their feelings of closeness towards them. Even when the relationship is only based on a face-to-face relationship (Dolev-Cohen & Barak, 2013), messaging within social media can be a tool that provides teenagers with emotional stability. This tool has great value in such an unstable period, full of emotional crises that characterise adolescence. Emotions and interpersonal attributions of those online become based on personal characteristics and psychological needs. Teenagers can choose how to describe themselves and their online persona using social media (Dolev-Cohen & Barak, 2013).

Case Study
  • Tracy is a 15-year-old studying at high school.
  • Tracey has had a momentous lousy day and has heard the sad news.
  • This news is distressing and makes her feel emotionally sad.
  • She is unable to see her friends face to face at the current time, so she uses instant messaging to text her friends how she is feeling at the time.
  • She then receives comfort and emotional support from her friends.

Instant messaging with peers can help distressed adolescents improve their negative emotional state (Dolev-Cohen & Barak, 2013). Harmful repression of emotions can lead to a sense of helplessness and, as a result, a lower quality of life. It is critical to express these negative emotions (Dolev-Cohen & Barak, 2013). Adolescents feel emotional relief after engaging in a conversation with their peers because it provides them with an outlet when distressed. This is social-affective sharing, where listening, understanding, comforting, offering consolidation, and caring can validate a peer's emotions. It enables them to reframe and reappraise their emotional episode (Reeve, 2018, pp. 335–336). However, it highlights the difficulty of studying multiple factors operating concurrently in cyberspace (Dolev-Cohen & Barak, 2013). Social media can also be a source of contention, as cyberbullying can have a significant emotional impact. Nevertheless, instant messaging, specifically within Dolev-Cohen and Barak, (2013) study, has reflected consistent emotional support among peers.

  • How does social media help adolescents' emotions?

Emotion regulationEdit

In experience-sampling studies, youth transitioned through emotional states more [than?] expeditiously and intensely. Shifts in teens' daily moods can correlate to their quality of life (McLaughlin et al., 2015). Emotion regulation is "the extrinsic and intrinsic processes responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions, especially their intensive and temporal features, to accomplish one's goals" (Thompson, 1994, pp. 27–28). Emotion regulation can be learnt; this learning process can occur because adolescent neural networks have plasticity. Plasticity in the human brain is a fundamental concept studied in neuroscience. Plasticity in the brain is the ability to make adaptive changes to the function and structure of the nervous system. Both internal and external stimuli can change someone's neuroplasticity (Fokker et al., 2021).

  • How is emotion regulation important for adolescents?
  • Why is emotion regulation so difficult?

Teens can find it more difficult to regulate emotions, particularly those inclusive of depressed and or anxious states. Studies have found that the possible cause of emotional reactivity and less control during adolescence might be because of the increase in the need for top-down control (Hare et al., 2008). Additionally, stressors elicit stronger negative emotions and affect adolescents as they experience stronger associations between stressful events. These stressors negatively affect adolescents (McLaughlin et al., 2015). One factor of emotional reactivity involves physiological responses to emotional antecedents. This includes activation of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (McLaughlin et al., 2015).

The counsellor relationship
  • Building a one on one relationship with the counsellor and providing support through school is important to help adolescents [grammar?] emotional regulation. Therapy’s[grammar?] such as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) can help towards emotional regulation.
  • An example of an activity for the therapy[vague]

Lazarus[grammar?] appraisal theoryEdit

According to Lazarus' appraisal theory, stress arises from perceiving an imbalance between the demands placed on the individual and the individual's abilities and resources to cope (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Lazarus argued that the experience of stress differs significantly between individuals depending on how they interpret an event and the product of a specific sequence of thinking patterns called appraisals (Lazarus, 1991).

Figure 4. Lazarus Appraisal theory

Cognitive appraisal (see Figure 4) refers to the personal evaluation of a situation/stimulus that ultimately influences the extent to which the situation is discerned as stressful. An appraisal is a process of assessing:

  1. whether a situation or event threatens a person's well-being
  2. whether there are adequate personal resources available for coping with the demand of the situation, and
  3. what their strategy for dealing with the situation/stimulus is (Campbell et al., 2013).

Cognitive reappraisal is an antecedent-focused emotion regulation strategy in the early stages of emotion experience. This strategy successfully modifies emotional experiences by modulating cognitive processes, which involve the re-interpretation of emotional events (Gross, 2002). When adolescents undergo cognitive appraisal and depict a negative social event or interaction, their reappraisal efficacy is significantly low[compared too?] (McLaughlin et al., 2015). Teenagers have less ability to reappraise and reframe the situation, limiting their emotional regulation. This displays[awkward expression?] that adolescents are continually developing emotionally.

Case study

Joel is a student in high school, and the teacher has handed back marks for their most recent exam. Joel has found out he has not gotten the mark he wanted. His primary appraisal is that this is a negative scenario and a perceived threat. His second appraisal is that he has an inability to cope with stress. This then leads to the negative emotion of disappointment. His action is then to withdraw.

The amygdalaEdit

Figure 2. The Amygdala[Provide more detail]

The amygdala is a brain area that includes emotional reactivity. From early childhood to adolescent development, there is a physiological shift. According to Gee et al.[grammar?] (2013) findings, positive amygdala and prefrontal connectivity in early childhood transitions to negative functional connectivity during adolescence[explain?]. Both parts of these areas are constantly maturing[vague]. The effective connectivity[between?] in this circuitry does increase with age (Gee et al., 2013). Furthermore, there is connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex during adolescence, as it predicts amygdala habituation in adolescents and adults (Gee et al., 2013). At the neural level, fMRI studies have demonstrated that adolescents display more significant amygdala activity in response to emotional stimuli, including aggression. As the amygdala's connectivity [with?] changes, this can lead to an imbalance in emotional regulation (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018).

The amygdala
  • It is part of the limbic system
  • Responds to threats
  • Most importantly, it helps to regulate emotions and fear.
  • During adolescence, social rewards such as peer approval are substantial (Davey, Yücel, & Allen, 2008). This is caused by an increased sensitivity of the ventral striatum and amygdala to adolescent social reward. Social reward plays a significant role when weighing up the costs and benefits of risk behaviours that can happen in a social context (e.g. whether to experiment with drugs, drive carelessly, or participate in a fight) (Davey et al., 2008).

Focus question

1 The amygdala is part of the limbic system:


2 Amygdala connectivity increases during adolescence this then causes  :

Emotional disregulation
Emotional regualtion[spelling?]

The prefrontal cortexEdit

Figure 2. Area highlighted of the prefrontal cortex[grammar?]

Adolescents continue to develop the neural underpinnings of emotion regulation, particularly prefrontal engagement during emotional regulation and connectivity with limbic regions (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). The prefrontal cortex (see Figure 2) is the only region with a significant age-related change in connectivity with the amygdala. As the brain develops the prefrontal top-down regulation improves (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). This highlights the significant changes of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala that happens throughout adolescence (Gee et al., 2013).

The prefrontal cortex is thought to play a role in promoting motivated social behaviour in adolescents, which is important at their age (Somerville et al., 2013). The prefrontal cortex, in particular, exhibits this extended period of development, particularly when compared to regions such as the primary motor and sensory cortices. The two most noticeable changes in the prefrontal cortex during adolescence are synaptic pruning[factual?]. This is often associated with a decrease in grey matter. There is also an increase in myelination, which is associated with a growth in white matter (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018).

The role of aggressionEdit

Adolescent mood and emotion swings are common. Aggression is one of these emotions. Aggression elicited by threat, frustration, or provocation is called reactive aggression (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). Although not all teenagers exhibit reactive aggressive behaviour, it does peak during adolescence (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). Multiple factors contribute to this, but as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex mature, this can lead to an imbalance in emotional regulation (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). There are also significant differences between the cognitive processes that underpin reactive and proactive aggression.

The general aggression model examines the effects of a wide range of person-related and situational factors on aggression, including social, cognitive, biological, developmental, and environmental factors. Person-related factors include trait differences such as anger, cognitive biases, and impaired executive functions. Situational factors include frustration, provocation, social stress, and social rejection. Each of these components is thought to influence the likelihood of aggressive behaviour by mediating cognitive and affective processes such as cognitive appraisal and decision-making (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018). To date, the literature on adolescent atypical reactive aggression suggests that such behaviours are at least partially underpinned by limbic hyperreactivity and impaired emotion regulation circuitry (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018).

Focus question

Aggression is elicited by what?:

A calm environment

Autism and EmotionsEdit

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is coupled with amplified emotional responses and poor emotional control (Mazefsky et al., 2013). Little is known about the underlying mechanisms of ASD (e.g., physiologic arousal, degree of negative and positive affect, alterations in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex). Poor emotional regulation can be inherent in those with ASD. Children and adolescents with ASD are noted to demonstrate greater negative affectivity, frustration, avoidance and venting behaviours than peers without ASD (Mills et al., 2022). Children with autism often experience co-occurring depression, anxiety, or anger due to difficulties with emotion regulation (Cai et al., 2018). Instead they have their unique mechanisms (e.g., differences in information processing/perception, cognitive factors [particularly stubbornness], dysregulated emotion and less goal-orient behaviour) (Mazefsky et al., 2013). As there is no consistent knowledge of the underlying mechanisms there needs to be further study for youth with ASD (Mazefsky et al., 2013).

  • ASD can be detected at 18 months of age or younger (Lord et al., 2006).
  • Those with ASD may have difficulties developing and maintaining friendships, communicating with peers and adults. As well as understanding what behaviours are expected in school (Lord et al., 2006).

Recognition of emotionsEdit

Recognising emotions is important when navigating social life. As adolescents are socialising more so than they have during childhood for those with ASD this is a significant challenge. Often they have to learn social cues and contexts and respond in ways that others would find appropriate. Stagg et al. (2022) conducted a study on emotion recognition in those with ASD. They found they struggled to identify emotions on displayed images and videos of actors acting out their emotions. They could not differentiate between displayed and felt emotions, as non-contextual cues seemed to be a significant challenge for those trying to process emotion (Stagg et al., 2022).

Therapies to help emotion recognitionEdit

Oxytocin is known as the love hormone and was shown in Guastella et al. (2010) study to help with emotion recognition in adolescents. Guastella et al.[grammar?] (2010) study provided evidence that nasal oxytocin spray improved emotion recognition in young people diagnosed with ASD. Their research suggests the potential of earlier intervention and further evaluation of oxytocin nasal spray as a treatment to improve social communication and interaction in young people with autism spectrum disorders (Guastella et al., 2010). This intervention has been investigated by other studies and has been introduced as a valuable way to help those with ASD to recognise the emotions of others. This could further help prevent mental health issues such as depression and anxiety caused by not being able to recognise emotions.

Focus question

What hormone is said to help with emotion recognition?:


Parents[grammar?] impact on emotional regulationEdit

Figure 5. Photo of a parent with their children

Emotional regulation is complex for youth but can also be difficult for parents under stress. Morris et al. (2017) completed a study focusing on the impact of parenting on emotion regulation during childhood and adolescence. Parents of children with autism report higher stress levels than those of children without autism (Mills et al., 2022). With these higher stress levels, it is often hard for parents to regulate their emotions, let alone teach their children how. As such, evidence suggests that "mindful parenting" could be an essential consideration when helping teens learn emotional regulation. Mindful parenting is the practice of non-judgemental awareness and reduced reactivity of parents while in their parenting role (Wong et al., 2019). Mindful parenting can improve parent emotion regulation, foster parent-child co-regulation, and as a result, reduce child ED[explain?] (Mills et al., 2022). When successful, parents are reported to help adolescents (including ASD) regulate their emotions and produce a positive effect compared to when they are alone. They continue to help them develop emotionally throughout the entirety of adolescence.

Focus question

A coping mechanism parents can use to help emotional regulation?:

Gentle parenting
Social coping
Problem focusted


Emotions are responses to antecedents or environmental stimuli displayed at multiple levels (McLaughlin et al., 2015). Throughout adolescence, youth develop and learn their emotions in day-to-day life. Studies have shown that adolescents' average emotional states become progressively more negative from early to middle adolescence (Larson et al., 2002) but start to slow down as the teenager develops into an adult.

Everyday teenagers are involved in changing social groups and relationships. Social media can have its problematic issues, but it allows an outlet for those to connect, rant and regulate their emotions to their friends. Rapidly changing emotions such as sadness, anger, fear and aggression can overwhelm adolescents. Teens are likely to be poor at emotional regulation and cognitive reappraisal, leading to aggressive behaviours (Lickley & Sebastian, 2018).

For those with ASD, their emotional regulation and development are not occurring at the right[hmmmm?] age. ASD can cause issues with empathy and socialisation. As little is known about the underlying mechanisms, there is a need for further studies on youth with ASD. These studies will help them to be able to create connections and socialise in such a critical stage of developing relationships. Parental emotional regulation is key to helping encourage support and model good behavioural patterns for their children.

See alsoEdit


Adler, E. S., & Clark, R. (1991). Adolescence: A literary passage. Adolescence, 26(104), 757-768.

Cai, R. Y., Richdale, A. L., Uljarević, M., Dissanayake, C., & Samson, A. C. (2018). Emotion regulation in autism spectrum disorder: Where we are and where we need to go. Autism Res, 11(7), 962-978.

Campbell, T. S., Johnson, J. A., & Zernicke, K. A. (2013). Cognitive Appraisal. In M. D. Gellman & J. R. Turner (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine (pp. 442-442). Springer New York.

Davey, C. G., Yücel, M., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The emergence of depression in adolescence: Development of the prefrontal cortex and the representation of reward. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 1-19.

Dolev-Cohen, M., & Barak, A. (2013). Adolescents’ use of instant messaging as a means of emotional relief. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(1), 58-63.

Erikson, E. H., (1994). Identity and the life cycle. WW Norton

Fokker, E., Zong, X., & Treur, J. (2021). A second-order adaptive network model for emotion regulation in addictive social media behaviour. Cognitive Systems Research, 70, 52-62.

Gee, D. G., Humphreys, K. L., Flannery, J., Goff, B., Telzer, E. H., Shapiro, M., Hare, T. A., Bookheimer, S. Y., & Tottenham, N. (2013). A developmental shift from positive to negative connectivity in human amygdala–prefrontal circuitry. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(10), 4584-4593.

Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), 281-291.

Guastella, A. J., Einfeld, S. L., Gray, K. M., Rinehart, N. J., Tonge, B. J., Lambert, T. J., & Hickie, I. B. (2010). Intranasal oxytocin improves emotion recognition for youth with autism spectrum disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 67(7), 692-694.

Hare, T. A., Tottenham, N., Galvan, A., Voss, H. U., Glover, G. H., & Casey, B. J. (2008). Biological substrates of emotional reactivity and regulation in adolescence during an emotional go-nogo task. Biological Psychiatry, 63(10), 927-934.

Hoffman, C. C. (2017). Social and emotional learning. A case study of the practices and systems within a caring middle school community.

Larson, R. W., Moneta, G., Richards, M. H., & Wilson, S. (2002). Continuity, stability, and change in daily emotional experience across adolescence. Child Development, 73(4), 1151-1165.

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer publishing company.

Lickley, R. A., & Sebastian, C. L. (2018). The neural basis of reactive aggression and its development in adolescence. Psychology, Crime & Law, 24(3), 313-333.

Mazefsky, C. A., Herrington, J., Siegel, M., Scarpa, A., Maddox, B. B., Scahill, L., & White, S. W. (2013). The Role of emotion regulation in autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 52(7), 679-688.

McLaughlin, K. A., Garrad, M. C., & Somerville, L. H. (2015). What develops during emotional development? A component process approach to identifying sources of psychopathology risk in adolescence. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17(4), 403-410.

Mills, A. S., Tablon-Modica, P., Mazefksy, C. A., & Weiss, J. A. (2022). Emotion dysregulation in children with autism: A multimethod investigation of the role of child and parent factors. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 91, 101911.

Morris, A. S., Criss, M. M., Silk, J. S., & Houltberg, B. J. (2017). The impact of parenting on emotion regulation during childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 11(4), 233-238.

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (7th ed.). Wiley Global Education US.

Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2014). Life-Span Human Development. Cengage Learning.

Somerville, L. H., Jones, R. M., Ruberry, E. J., Dyke, J. P., Glover, G., & Casey, B. J. (2013). The medial prefrontal cortex and the emergence of self-conscious emotion in adolescence. Psychol Sci, 24(8), 1554-1562.

Stagg, S., Tan, L. H., & Kodakkadan, F. (2022). Emotion recognition and context in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder [Article]. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 52(9), 4129-4137.

Thompson, R. A. (1994). Emotion regulation: A theme in search of definition. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2/3)25-52, 250-283.

Wood, M. A., Bukowski, W. M., & Lis, E. (2016). The digital self: How social media serves as a setting that shapes youth’s emotional experiences. Adolescent Research Review, 1(2), 163-173.

External linksEdit