This study explored the role of emotion regulation (ER) as a moderator in the stressor–adjustment outcome relationship while identifying the relevant stressors.
In 214 adolescents (10–18 years; 51.4% boys), stressors (parent and peer relations, negative events), psychological outcomes (adolescent perceived stress, psychopathology symptoms, negative affect), and biological measures related to the stress response (hair cortisol [HC], heart rate variability [HRV]) as well as ER strategies—maladaptive (MalER), adaptive (AdER), and their ratio (Mal/AdER)—were measured and analyzed via linear regression, adjusted for age, sex, and socioeconomic status.
Parental rejection and bullying were the stressors with the strongest association with psychological outcomes (β range = |0.217–0.352|, p < .05). In addition, parental rejection was associated with HC (β = 0.242, p = .035), whereas none of the stressors were associated with HRV. MalER was linked to all, and AdER to most psychological outcomes (β range = |0.21–0.49|, p < .05). MalER, but not AdER, was associated with HC (β = 0.25, p = .009), whereas none of the ER strategy types were associated with HRV. Moreover, several associations between stressors and psychological outcomes were moderated by MalER and Mal/AdER, whereas AdER’s role as a moderator was not confirmed.
The study confirmed that adolescents’ stressors are associated with both psychological and physiological outcomes and moderated by MalER or Mal/AdER. The lack of moderation by AdER directs toward the maladaptive shift theory. Investigations through a longitudinal, rather than a cross-sectional design, could further elucidate the current observations. Moreover, training in how to use ER effectively has a potential of increasing adolescents’ stress resilience.