Listening in: An Alternative Method for Measuring the Family Emotional Environment

Tawni B. Stoop, Pamela M. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The family emotional environment influences children’s development of emotion regulation in various ways. Children’s difficulties with effectively regulating emotions, in turn, can contribute to the development of psychopathology. However, the pathways that explain how environmental emotion—including overheard emotion among family members—influences children’s development of healthy or problematic emotion regulation are unclear. In this article, we briefly discuss the most common methods (e.g., questionnaires, laboratory observations) used to assess emotion in the family. We consider the benefits and limitations of these methods and discuss the need for objective measurement of the family emotional environment. We include a description of the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), which provides unobtrusive, extended sampling of the emotional tone of family interaction in the home. We present preliminary evidence of its use with 7- and 8-year-old and their families during one day at home. The method reveals that objectively assessed parent-to-parent interactions that are negatively toned, but not parental self-report of conflict or expressivity, are associated with children’s self-reported emotional reactions to hearing independently recorded clips of their mothers’ voices during simulated angry interactions. The finding suggests unique contributions of objective, unobtrusive, extended measurement of the family emotional environment to understanding aspects of children’s emotional development that may not be captured with other commonly used methods. We discuss future directions that explore how EAR may be used to further our knowledge of the pathways between environmental emotion as a risk factor that influences children’s emotional functioning and their psychological well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-165
Number of pages15
JournalClinical Child and Family Psychology Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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