Psychometric evaluation of the Affect Regulation Checklist: An interview with Dr. Natalie Goulter

Affect dysregulation has been identified as a key underlying mechanism across a variety of mental health problems. In their 2022 paper, Psychometric evaluation of the Affect Regulation Checklist: Clinical and community samples, parent-reports and youth self-reports, Dr. Natalie Goulter and co-authors test the psychometric properties of the Affect Regulation Checklist—a measure designed to assess affect dysregulation, suppression, and reflection—across clinical and community samples.

Dr. Goulter kindly took the time to answer our questions about this recent article.

1.     What is the main takeaway of your article?

We conducted a comprehensive psychometric evaluation of an affect regulation measure, the Affect Regulation Checklist (ARC), in both clinical and community samples with both parent-reports and youth self-reports. We found support for a correlated three-factor structure representing affect dysregulation, suppression, and reflection across samples and informants. Dysregulation reflects a deficit in adaptive regulation strategies (e.g., “I have a hard time controlling my feelings”), suppression taps avoidance of emotions (e.g., “I try hard not to think about my feelings”), and reflective functioning is the ability to understand and interpret one’s own mental state (e.g., “thinking about why I have different feelings helps me to learn about myself”).

We also examined whether these affect dimensions were differentially associated with a range of mental health problems, including externalizing psychopathology (i.e., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder), and internalizing psychopathology (i.e., generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder). Affect dysregulation was positively associated with all forms of psychopathology across samples and informants. In general, suppression was positively associated with many forms of psychopathology, and reflection was negatively associated with externalizing and positively associated with internalizing psychopathology.

Taken together, our findings support the ARC as a reliable and valid measure of youth affect regulation.

2.     What questions does this paper address? Why were these questions important?

We aimed to determine the psychometric properties of the ARC, whether these properties replicated across clinical and community samples and parent-reports and youth self-reports, and whether ARC dimensions were associated with youth psychopathology.

Emotion regulation are processes responsible for “monitoring, evaluating, and modifying” emotional reactions. In contrast, emotion dysregulation processes are maladaptive emotion regulation strategies. Emotion dysregulation has become well-recognized as a transdiagnostic risk factor of many mental health problems, and thus, it is very important to have reliable and valid measures. (The construct of affect regulation, as compared to emotion regulation, is considered superordinate encompassing constructs such as coping and mood regulation.)

Our findings identifying links between ARC dysregulation and all forms of psychopathology add to this literature, and we extend research by demonstrating that other related affect processes, that is, suppression and reflection, may also be associated with several forms of psychopathology. Our findings also suggest that with further research, the ARC could be used as a screening measure in clinical and non-clinical populations alike. Greater accuracy in measuring and screening affect regulatory processes can help identify those children and adolescents at heightened risk for a range of mental health problems.

3.     What do you wish more people knew about this topic?

I wish there was better recognition of the importance of psychometric research. As described by Flake and Fried, reliable and valid measures are foundational for advancing our understanding of mental health. We need reliable and valid measures to understand the etiology of a psychopathological construct, and whether an intervention is efficacious and effective in treating that construct. Before we can do this, we need to define the construct and build accurate measures.

Affect regulation is a complex and multidimensional construct. Given its established role in the development and maintenance of psychopathology, we need further precision phenotype research on how affect regulation is defined and measured.

4.     Are there any papers, videos, blog posts, etc. that you would recommend to readers who are interested in this topic?

Some pioneers in the affect/emotion regulation field include Drs. James Gross, Theodore Beauchaine, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Ross Thompson.

However, there are several mid- and early-career researchers doing amazing work in this field, including Drs. Nim Tottenham, Katie McLaughlin, Dylan Gee, June Gruber, Jennifer Silvers, among MANY others.

5.     What are you most excited to see in this field in the future? What questions are you particularly excited to get answers to?

Many in the field are already using multi-methodological approaches for understanding affect and emotion regulation and its role in the development of psychopathology, and I am excited to see the field continue to tackle important research questions using multiple levels of analysis.

In addition to further research on affect regulation across different developmental stages, I am also excited by advancements in the field using intensive longitudinal data (e.g., minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day). Affect regulation is dynamic and demonstrates fluctuations throughout the day. Yet, current understanding is predominantly founded on cross-sectional research or longitudinal research with retrospective reporting or long-term intervals. Recent research has leveraged advances in technology that now allows us to conduct intensive assessments over shorter periods. Intensive longitudinal data better reflects real-world contexts relative to traditional assessments (e.g., laboratory experiments).

Finally, developmental science needs to do more work on measurement invariance (i.e., whether the psychometric properties of a measure are equivalent across groups). Further research is needed examining invariance of youth affect regulation and psychopathology measures across cultural and gender identities.


Author bio:

Natalie Goulter, Ph.D., is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) within the School of Psychology at Newcastle University, UK, and an Adjunct within the Salivary Bioscience Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and the Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University, Canada. Dr. Goulter’s program of research aims to advance understanding on the development of externalizing psychopathology and callous-unemotional (CU) traits during childhood and adolescence. Specifically, she is interested in: a) measurement and modeling; b) developmental etiology; c) biological mechanisms; and d) preventive interventions. Dr. Goulter can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Natalie_Goulter.

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