• Genetic and Electrophysiological Correlates of Self-Regulation in Adolescence

      Lackner, Christine; Department of Psychology
      Self-regulation is considered a powerful predictor of behavioral and mental health outcomes during adolescence and emerging adulthood. In this dissertation I address some electrophysiological and genetic correlates of this important skill set in a series of four studies. Across all studies event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded as participants responded to tones presented in attended and unattended channels in an auditory selective attention task. In Study 1, examining these ERPs in relation to parental reports on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) revealed that an early frontal positivity (EFP) elicited by to-be-ignored/unattended tones was larger in those with poorer self-regulation. As is traditionally found, N1 amplitudes were more negative for the to-be-attended rather than unattended tones. Additionally, N1 latencies to unattended tones correlated with parent-ratings on the BRIEF, where shorter latencies predicted better self-regulation. In Study 2 I tested a model of the associations between selfregulation scores and allelic variations in monoamine neurotransmitter genes, and their concurrent links to ERP markers of attentional control. Allelic variations in dopaminerelated genes predicted both my ERP markers and self-regulatory variables, and played a moderating role in the association between the two. In Study 3 I examined whether training in Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts, an intervention program which trains elements of self-regulation, would lead to improvement in ERP markers of attentional control and parent-report BRIEF scores in a group of adolescents with self-regulatory difficulties. I found that those in the treatment group amplified their processing of attended relative to unattended stimuli over time, and reduced their levels of problematic behaviour whereas those in the waitlist control group showed little to no change on both of these metrics. In Study 4 I examined potential associations between self-regulation and attentional control in a group of emerging adults. Both event-related spectral perturbations (ERSPs) and intertrial coherence (ITC) in the alpha and theta range predicted individual differences in self-regulation. Across the four studies I was able to conclude that real-world self-regulation is indeed associated with the neural markers of attentional control. Targeted interventions focusing on attentional control may improve self-regulation in those experiencing difficulties in this regard.
    • Investigating the Conditional Adaptiveness of Adolescents’ Aggression from an Evolutionary Perspective

      Lapierre, Kiana; Department of Psychology
      Growing evidence supports the evolutionary perspective characterizing aggression as a strategy to achieve proximate adaptive benefits which can indirectly and probabilistically contribute to ultimate evolutionary goals (survival and reproduction). However, aggression may only be adaptive under certain conditions. Therefore, this dissertation investigated various conditions that may affect the adaptiveness of adolescent aggression, namely aggression characteristics (aggressive form, function, and anonymity), target characteristics (power of victim relative to the perpetrator), and perpetrator characteristics (experience of victimization and gender). Study 1 used a person-oriented approach to investigate how proactive and reactive cyber aggression and concurrent experiences of cyber victimization were associated with evolutionarily relevant social advantages and disadvantages in a community sample. Study 2 examined differential associations between aggression involvement and evolutionarily relevant aggressive functions, considering variations in aggressive form, the target’s power relative to perpetrator, and the perpetrator’s gender in a school-based sample. Finally, in a school-based sample, Study 3 investigated (1) how the associations between anonymous perpetration and evolutionary functions of aggression varied by aggressive form and the perpetrator’s gender, (2) how the target’s power and the perpetrator’s gender related to adolescents’ use of anonymous perpetration in each aggressive form, and (3) differential associations between anonymous victimization and victims’ perceptions of harm as a function of aggressive form and gender of the victim. Results suggest that adolescents’ aggression was linked to evolutionarily relevant aggressive functions motivated by competitive (e.g., aggression deterrence, intrasexual competition), impression management (seeking status and mates), sadistic (enjoyment), and reactive (impulsive response to real/perceived threats) functions, and to social advantages (social dominance, dating behaviour) for aggressors who used reactive aggression less frequently. However, aggression involvement was differentially associated with evolutionary motives based on the form, function, or anonymity of aggression, target characteristics, and perpetrator characteristics. Moreover, aggression was associated with costs, especially for cyber aggressor-victims who frequently aggressed reactively, and for victims of anonymous aggression. Thus, adolescents’ aggression may be conditionally adaptive for a narrow range of functions, depending on the characteristics of the aggression, target, and perpetrator. By highlighting the conditional adaptiveness of adolescent aggression, this research may inform efforts to improve interventions addressing aggression.
    • Who Bullies and When? Concurrent, Longitudinal, and Experimental Associations between Personality and Social Environments for Adolescent Bullying Perpetration

      Farrell, Ann; Department of Psychology
      Increasing evidence suggests that bullying may be used by adolescents as a strategic, adaptive tool against weaker peers to obtain valued resources like social status and romantic partners. However, bullying perpetration may only be adaptive within particular environmental contexts that provide opportunities to obtain these resources at minimal costs. These environmental opportunities may be relevant for adolescents who possess particular personality traits and are motivated to exploit these contexts and power imbalances. Using an adaptive social ecological framework, the primary goal of my dissertation was to examine concurrent, longitudinal, and experimental associations between exploitative personality traits and broader social ecologies to facilitate adolescent bullying perpetration. In Study 1, I examined whether risky social environments filtered through antisocial personality traits to facilitate direct and indirect forms of bullying perpetration in a cross-sectional sample of 396 adolescents. In Study 2, I extended Study 1 by investigating the longitudinal associations among bullying, empathic and exploitative personality traits, and social environmental variables, in a sample of 560 adolescents across the first three years of high school. Given that Studies 1 and 2 were correlational, in Study 3, I explored whether bullying perpetration could be experimentally simulated in a laboratory setting through point allocations in the Dictator and Ultimatum economic games by manipulating power imbalances in a sample of 167 first-year undergraduate students. Results from all three studies largely supported the prediction that broader social ecologies filter through exploitative personality styles to associate with bullying perpetration. Exploitative adolescents are primarily likely to take advantage of particular contexts including power advantages, higher social status, and poorer school and neighborhood climates. The results of my dissertation demonstrate the complex reality of the social ecology of bullying, and the need for anti-bullying initiatives to target multiple contexts including individual differences.