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Fear of Emotion in Adolescents: The Modified Affective Control Scale for Adolescents.

Researcher: Delphine Koh.

Supervisor: Suzanne Dziurawiec and Simon Davies

Date: December, 2010

Background:

It has been found that the onset of adolescence may bring an increase in the display of strong emotions associated with hormonal changes and with the increased daily hassles of adolescent life. However, research looking at difficulties in emotion regulation, particularly emotion dysregulation in the form of having a fear of emotion, within the adolescent population remains scarce. This lack of research is partly due to the lack of comprehensive and cross-culturally valid emotion measures that adequately assess emotion dysregulation in adolescents. The current research therefore looked at evaluating the psychometric properties and clinical relevance of the Modified Affective Control Scale for Adolescents-Revised (MACSA-Revised), which measures adolescents’ fear of losing control over emotions or their reactions to emotions.

Study 1:

Prior research at Murdoch University has shown the MACSA-Revised to be valid and reliable in a Western Australian adolescent population. However, results have yet to be replicated by others and the psychometric properties of the MACSA-Revised have not been established in other adolescent populations outside of Australia. Study 1 was thus designed to examine if the MACSA-Revised would remain a robust instrument cross-culturally. The psychometric properties and construct validity of the MACSA-Revised was thus evaluated in a community sample of 595 students, aged 13 and 18 years, recruited from mainstream secondary schools across Singapore.

The statistical technique of exploratory factor analysis was employed in Study 1. The MACSA-Revised was found to have acceptable psychometric properties in the current Singaporean adolescent sample with analyses indicating that the MACSA-Revised captured the presence of five separate but related factors underlying the Fear of Emotion construct in the Singaporean adolescent sample, including (a) Fear of No Recovery, (b) Lack of Control of Anxiety, (c) Lack of Clarity, (d) Fear of Embarrassment, and (e) Fear of Anger. Given that these factors appear different from factors found in past research on the fear of emotion construct, it appears that the underlying dimensions that comprise fear of emotion for a Singaporean adolescent sample are different from that of a Western sample.

In addition, reliability and convergent validity of the MACSA-Revised was demonstrated, suggesting that it is a robust scale that can be used with confidence with Singaporean adolescents.

In further exploring the responses of Singaporean adolescents on this measure, it was noted that although fear of emotion appears heightened to some degree amongst females and upper secondary students, these differences were not pronounced. The lack of pronounced differences between genders, as well as between the upper and lower secondary students, in their fear of emotion responses appear to be unique to Singaporean adolescents, as research from Western cultures have indicated gender and age differences in emotion regulation. A likely reason for this unique finding could be a cultural one. It may be that emotions that do not serve to enhance social harmony are equally feared by both males and females in the Singaporean culture, which is a relatively collectivistic one. In addition, the stressors as experienced by Singaporean adolescents are likely to be different from those of Western populations.

Study 2:

It was of interest in Study 2 to evaluate the ability of the MACSA-Revised to detect a fear of emotion in adolescents with emotional and mental health issues. In this study, the clinical utility and the construct validity of the MACSA-Revised was examined by comparing the responses of a matched sample of 40 clinical adolescent participants from a mental health clinic in Singapore and 40 community adolescent participants.

Statistical analyses revealed that clinical participants indeed reported a heightened fear of emotion as compared to community participants. Given that emotion dysregulation is deemed to be characteristic of psychopathology, the significantly different responses across the two samples ascertained the construct validity of the measure. It appeared that clinical participants experienced a greater fear of emotion than the community participants, due largely to feeling hopeless and worrying that recovery may not be possible when experiencing distressing emotions, along with perceiving a lack of control as well as a lack of clarity when anxious.

In addition, the measure was further able to able to differentiate between groups of different gender and collapsed year-level in the Singaporean sample of both clinical and community participants. It was noted that the relatively small sample size may have impeded the presentation of any interaction effects between the groups.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, although limitations of the two studies were noted, the MACSA-Revised appears to be a psychometrically sound measure for the assessment of fear of emotions in adolescents. Having a suitable emotion measure for adolescents that is not only simple to administer and answer, but is also cross-culturally applicable, will be helpful for future research when looking at pathways of emotion dysregulation that contribute to adolescent psychopathology.