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Affective Social Competence

Amy G. Halberstadt, North Carolina State University,


Susanne A. Denham, George Mason University and
Julie C. Dunsmore, Hamilton College
Abstract
A theoretical model for affective social competence is described. Affective social com-
petence (ASC) is comprised of three integrated and dynamic components: sending
affective messages, receiving affective messages, and experiencing affect. Central and
interconnected abilities within each component include awareness and identication
of affect, working within a complex and constantly changing social context, and man-
agement and regulation. The dynamic integration of the components is emphasized
and potential mediating factors are outlined. The model is placed within the context
of previous research and theory related to affective social competence; how the model
advances future research is also explicated for each component. Research with special
populations of children is described to highlight the importance of affective social
competence in social relationships and the promise of the ASC model for future
research and practice.
Keywords: social competence; emotion regulation; peer relations; nonverbal skills;
emotion competence
Jasper sees a group of his classmates playing in the kitchen area in his preschool. He
is excited and wants to play, too. How should he approach them? Should he bound
over to Antonio, expressing his exuberance by grabbing a spoon and helping him stir
the pot? Should he edge over to the group and wait until he is invited to play? Should
he approach Mickie, who has turned her back to him, or Annika, who is smiling
at him?
Kenya is being teased by the third-grade classroom bully again. She is fed up and
wants the taunting to stop. How can Kenya get the bully to stop teasing her? Should
she smile and try to act as if the teasing doesnt bother her? Should she frown at the
bully and speak forcefully? What if the bully starts to push her? What if the bully
backs down in class, but waits for her after school?
Jasper and Kenya are facing two key social situations, initiating peer contact and
responding to provocation (Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge, McClaskey & Feldman,
1985; Hubbard & Coie, 1994). As these examples make evident, emotions are primary
elements in social interactions. Jaspers and Kenyas abilities to express and experi-
ence their own emotions and to recognize the emotions of the other children involved
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street,
Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Amy Halberstadt, Department of
Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7801. Electronic mail may
be sent via Internet to halbers@unity.ncsu.edu.
80 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
will determine whether their strategies in these interactions are successful. These
examples involve children; however, emotions are basic elements in social interactions
throughout the life-span. First, they are a signicant source of information to both the
person communicating and the person receiving the communication. Emotional
content (communicated verbally, facially, or through other channels) often determines
the meaning of an interaction. Second, emotions are integral to social interaction; as
dynamic processes they create and are created by relationships with others (Campos,
Campos, & Barrett, 1989). It is difcult to imagine any single interaction that does
not include communicating some affective information, receiving affective informa-
tion, and/or experiencing some affective state.
Because skill in experiencing and expressing ones own emotions and in recogniz-
ing others emotions are central in successful social interactions, it is important to
dene and study what we are calling affective social competence. We dene affective
social competence as the efcacious communication of ones own affect, ones suc-
cessful interpretation and response to others affective communications, and the aware-
ness, acceptance, and management of ones own affect. We distinguish affective social
competence from the broader rubric of social competence which is well described as
effectiveness in interaction (Rose-Krasnor, 1997). Social competence has tradition-
ally been operationalized using the four general approaches of social skills, peer status,
relationship success, and functional goal-outcome assessments (Rose-Krasnor, 1997);
none of these include intra-psychic or relational aspects of emotion in any explicit
manner. Of course, effective communication, interpretation, and personal experience
of emotion is likely to have substantive impact on ones interaction success; it makes
sense that affective social competence and general social competence are overlapping
constructs. Nevertheless, because emotion aspects have been largely underdeveloped
in the social competence literature, it is valuable to explore the concept of affective
social competence as a distinct entity in its own right.
We are not the rst to notice the need for a distinct and comprehensive descrip-
tion of affective social competence. Indeed, many researchers have called for greater
awareness of emotions and/or emotion communication skills in social competence
(e.g., Buck, 1991; Hubbard & Coie, 1994; Lemerise & Gentil, 1992; Nowicki & Duke,
1992a; Thompson, 1990), and Goleman (1995) has also popularized the notion of
emotional intelligence with lay readers. Table 1 summarizes the research models of
Crick and Dodge (1994), Mayer and Salovey (Mayer, DiPaolo, & Salovey, 1990;
Mayer & Salovey, 1993, 1995, 1997), and Saarni (1990, 1997, 1999) in comparison
with our proposed model of affective social competence. Each model has important
elements pertaining to the phenomena of interest here.
Crick and Dodge (1994) developed a powerful model of information processing
mechanisms in social encounters. They include a comprehensive discussion of
how children interpret and react to social cues, and include some of what we will
call the self-factors inuencing the skills of sending, receiving, and experiencing.
Their goal is primarily one of delineating the information-processing aspects of
social competence, however, so there is less emphasis on the effective sending of
affective information, and on the awareness, understanding, and management
of ones own affect.
Mayer and Salovey (1997) carefully outlined the construct of emotional intelli-
gence. In their view, the ways in which individuals generate, perceive, and regulate
emotions gure prominently in their positive growth and adaptation. Additionally,
emotions facilitate thinking, and regulation of emotions can promote intellectual
Affective Social Competence 81
growth. We concur about the importance of emotions. We are less concerned about
the relations between socio-emotional skills and traditional estimations of intelligence,
however, and are more concerned about the dynamic aspects of developing emotional
understanding, communication, and experience within relationships.
Saarni (1990, 1997, 1999) emphasizes these aspects in her rich account of emo-
tional competence, . . . how [children] can respond emotionally, yet simultaneously
and strategically apply their knowledge about emotions and their expression to rela-
tionships with others, so that they can negotiate interpersonal exchanges and regulate
their emotional experiences as well (1990, p. 116). She is the rst modern theorist
to emphasize internal experiential aspects of competence and the importance of
genuineness of emotional experience, and explicitly asserts that emotional competence
is contextually anchored in social meaning . . . (1999, p. 2). Saarnis account includes
eight skills of emotional competence that individuals draw upon to demonstrate self-
efcacy during emotion-relevant social interchanges. She also stresses the role of
culture in determining how these aspects are expressed.
Saarni emphasizes the importance of process, but how these eight skills develop
and the specic components involved in the process of achieving these competencies
remain undelineated. Second, abilities clearly work in coordination with each other,
but there is no coherent, conceptual structure to organize how the dynamic, transac-
tional processes interrelate. Third, the term emotional competence may emphasize
the experiential portion at the expense of sending and receiving, and suggest a more
intra-psychic rather than social experience. We chose the term affective social com-
petence for our model because we want to emphasize the integral and dynamic rela-
tionship between affect and social interaction. Thus, in many ways we build on Saarnis
work, developing the promise of her account in a dynamic, transactional model that
allows for precise measurement of more fully specied processes.
As can be seen in Table 1, we draw upon the strengths of these theorists in our
model. We go substantially further, however, in that we (a) integrate these broad but
related domains, (b) carefully delineate the specic abilities within each domain, (c)
suggest a developmental sequence for these abilities, and (d) place all these processes
within an ongoing and dynamic social context.
We believe that it is vital to provide a detailed, ne-grained, comprehensive view
of affective social competence. Such a multifaceted model provides a clear, more com-
prehensive yet speciable theoretical account, and suggests where extant research is
thin or potentially confounds elements of affective social competence. For example,
suppose that Jasper tends to bound up to other children, forcefully attempting to join
play, and that his attempts tend to be rejected by other children. Is this rejection a
result of Jasper being unable to understand other childrens calm down messages,
sent through body language, facial expressions, and verbalizations? Is the rejection a
result of Jasper being unable to understand and modulate his own excitement? Or are
both of these factors combining to decrease Jaspers peer entry success? A ne-grained
model of affective social competence can help us to design studies to better disen-
tangle and more conclusively examine the separate components of affective social
competence in specic contexts. Finally, on a more applied note, a comprehensive
model of affective social competence might help practitioners remedy delays or de-
ciencies in childrens affective social competence within various settings. It is likely
that children demonstrate different patterns of strengths and weaknesses across the
components of affective social competence. Finding a prole of affective social com-
petence strengths and weaknesses for individual children (or groups of children) could
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
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Table 1. Summary of Past Theories and Comparison to Our Model of Affective Social Competence
Theorist
Halberstadt,
Saarni, 1990, 1997, 1999 Mayer & Salovey, 1997 Crick & Dodge, 1994 Denham & Dunsmore
Construct Emotional competence Features emotional A social information- Affective social competence is
refers to the demonstration intelligence as the ability processing model, the efcacious
of self-efcacy in the to perceive emotions, to including emotion at communication of ones own
context of emotion-eliciting access and generate every step, with memory, affect, ones successful
social transactions (1990, p. emotions so as to assist rules, social schemes, and interpretation and response to
116). thought, to understand social knowledge as the others affective
emotions & emotional data base for behavior. communications, and the
knowledge, and to No specic denition of awareness, acceptance, and
reectively regulate affect or emotional management of ones own
emotions so as to promote competence within social affect.
emotional and intellectual interaction.
growth (1997, p. 5).
Argues for EI as a kind of
intelligence that is distinct
from traditional
intelligence.
Components Lists 8 skills: Includes four abilities, Identies six steps: Organized around three basic
1. Awareness of own with increasingly complex 1. Encoding of internal components:
emotional state subcomponents in each and external cues 1. Sending affective
2. Recognition of others ability: 2. Interpretation of cues messages
emotion 1. Perceiving, and causal and intent 2. Receiving affective
3. Use of emotion and appraising, others and attributions, evaluation message
expression language ones own emotions of goal attainment, etc. 3. Experiencing affect
4. Ability to be empathic and expressing ones 3. Clarication of goals,
5. Realization that inner own emotions arousal regulation
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state and outer 2. Accessing and 4. Response access or Within each component, four
expression in self or generating emotions so construction progressive abilities are
others does not/should as to assist thought. 5. Response evaluation essential to successful social
not always correspond. 3. Recognizing and and selection interaction:
6. Coping adaptively with analyzing emotion in 6. Behavioral enactment 1. Awareness
aversive or distressing others 2. Identication
emotions by using self- 4. Regulating emotion, so 3. Working within a social
regulatory strategies as to promote context
7. Awareness that emotional and 4. Management & regulation
relationships are largely intellectual growth
dened by emotional
communication,
emotional immediacy
and reciprocity
8. Emotional efcacy:
Feeling in control and
accepting of ones own
emotional experiences
Sending: Focuses on need to adjust Recognizes knowing what Sending is implied in later Affectively competent
Awareness, sending within individual to send (ability 1), though steps in the model (steps 4, individuals notice when an
Identication, and cultural contexts. context and underlying 5, & 6), as appropriate to affective message needs to be
Context, and Specic aspects not skills are not emphasized. accessing, selecting and sent in a given context. They
Management outlined per se, but implicit enacting a response. identify the affective message
in skills 3, 5, 7, & 8. Context and management that needs to be sent, and send
Sending often presented in are implied because the message appropriately
combination with receiving behaviors considered are within the situational context.
and experiencing, and with occurring within a social They send affective messages
particular relational goals in context of others clearly and concisely. They
mind. behaviors and appropriately manage the
expectations. decision of what to
communicate and what not to.
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Table 1. continued
Theorist
Coverage of Halberstadt,
Skill Areas Saarni Mayer & Salovey Crick & Dodge Denham & Dunsmore
Receiving: Ability to discern others Awareness and labeling of Encoding and interpreting Affectively competent
Awareness, emotions, based on emotions in others whether emotional cues of others individuals notice when an
Identication, culturally agreed-upon same as or different from are central to this social affective message has been
Context, and situational and expressive own emotion states cognitive information sent. They appropriately
Management cues (skills 2, 3, 4). Ability (abilities 1 & 3). Ability processing model (step 2). identify and interpret the
to realize that inner and to identify others accurate Context and management affective information within
outer emotional states need vs. dishonest expressions are implied. the situational context. They
not coincide (skill 5). of feelings, complex receive the message without
Again, receiving often feelings, and emotional confusion or needing
presented in combination transitions (ability 1). repetitions. They
with other areas. appropriately manage the
receiving of both real and
false signals.
Experiencing: Awareness of ones own Self-awareness, staying Awareness implied within Affectively competent
Awareness, emotional state, including open to feelings, both encoding internal cues individuals notice when they
Identication, multiple emotions (skills 1, positive and negative, but (step 1). Identication are experiencing emotion(s) in
Context, and 7, & 8). Capacity for also detaching from implied within step 2. a given context. They
Management empathic involvement in feelings when necessary Management implied appropriately identify and
others emotional (abilities 1, 2, & 4). within arousal interpret their emotional
experience (skill 4). Ability to reectively management (step 3) experience within the
Interpersonal context monitor emotions in self contagion of others situational context. They
relevant to skill 7; also, a (abilities 1 & 2). Ability to arousal in social interaction experience emotion(s) without
basic pillar of the theory is moderate negative and must be managed. ruminating. They
the social construction of enhance positive emotions, appropriately manage whether
emotional experience. without repressing or to attenuate, retain, or enhance
Capacity for coping exaggerating the their emotional experiences.
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adaptively with aversive information they convey
emotions, and acceptance of (ability 4).
ones feelings (skills 6 & 8).
Transactional Children learn specic Less transactional than the Social processing and Emphasizes transactional and
Approach/ emotional behaviors, norms, other theoriesthe model social adjustment are contextual processes in social
Focus on and symbols for their is centered within the reciprocal and ongoing interaction and the dynamic
Process culture as an unintended person, with the goals of processes; Recognition of relations between components:
result of social interaction; emotions enhancing the ongoing, transactional First, ASC is enacted within
social experience is central. thought, and of thinking nature of social exchange relationships, so affectively
Recognition of various intelligently about ones leads to mental processes skilled behaviors are often
transactions within self and own and others emotions. that help direct the next dependent upon partner
between self and others List of components behavior (1994, p. 78). characteristics.
(e.g., understanding of ow suggests increasing Steps are located within a Second, relationships exist
of emotions and that inner complexity across social exchange or series within a past, present, and
states and outer expressions development. of social exchanges. future, so affectively skilled
need not be isomorphic; behaviors involve an
interaction between own understanding of timing both
sending style and in the immediate interaction
understanding of cultural and across previous and hoped
display rules; coping for (future) experiences with
adaptively with aversive the interaction partner.
emotions). Third, ASC is, at least partly,
List of components suggests a product of past transactions
increasing complexity (socialization).
across development. Fourth, ASC develops and
becomes more complex with
maturation and increasing
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Table 1. continued
Theorist
Coverage of Halberstadt,
Skill Areas Saarni Mayer & Salovey Crick & Dodge Denham & Dunsmore
experience and within a
dynamically changing self-
system. That is, an
individuals developing
maturation and experience
within the self-system will
also impact ASC.
Self-Factors Self-efcacy, self esteem Self-factors as moderators Several self-factors are Other skills, knowledge bases,
linked bidirectionally with are not elaborated. mentioned as possible motivational aspects, degrees
the components of moderating factors; these of arousal, and schemas may
emotional competence include attributions of inuence affective social
becoming more emotionally causality and hostile competence, including, but
competent fuels self esteem, attributional biases, not limited to: world view,
which in turn may make implementation strategies, self-concept or self-schema,
one more willing to try an gender and age. demeanor, temperament,
untested emotional process orientation toward
competence in a new relationships, knowledge of
situation. display rules, knowledge of
implementation strategies,
motivation to interact with
others and to be skilled in
these interactions, and
behavioral and schematic
exibility.
Note: Other researchers not included here have presented at least partial models, such as Eisenberg & Fabes (1992) and Thompson (1994) who focus on emotion regula-
tion; and Nowicki & Duke (1992, 1993), who focus on assessment.
Affective Social Competence 87
aid in tailoring interventions to uniquely target their needs and to use their strengths
to maximum benet.
Our major goal, then, is to provide a comprehensive model of affective social com-
petence. First, we outline a model that organizes our understanding of affective social
competence. Second, we describe the components of this model in detail. To do so,
we focus on affective social competence within peer relations, as ones peer relations
provide an important social context beginning early in the lifespan and continuing in
importance for most individuals throughout their lives.
1
In this section, we also high-
light and generate techniques that can be used to measure the abilities that we have
identied.
Third, we discuss the dynamism across the model components, as well as potential
mediating factors, primarily self-factors, in affective social competence. Fourth, we
discuss extant research relevant to our model of affective social competence conducted
with special populations of children, which informs our discussion of normative devel-
opment by shedding light on potential causes and effects of perturbations in affective
social competence. We conclude with suggestions for future research efforts directed
at further describing and understanding this important concept, and maintain that the
most fruitful examination of these issues can be achieved by consolidating develop-
mental and social psychological perspectives. We believe that the difculties many
researchers face in testing hypotheses about emotional and social competence stem
from a lack of clarity about what the various elements of these constructs are and how
they are interrelated. Thus, our goal is to organize what we do know about ASC and
to generate ideas for further testing the discrete components of ASC.
A Model of Affective Social Competence
Overview
Affective social competence includes three basic components: sending affective mes-
sages, receiving affective messages, and experiencing affect. Within each component,
the four progressive abilities that are essential to successful social interactions are: (a)
awareness, (b) identication, (c) working within a social context, and (d) management
and regulation. We depict our model as a pinwheel, a childrens toy that rotates in the
wind, to emphasize the constantly changing nature of social interactions, and the
knowledge of process that is implied in the continual integration of the various com-
ponents of affective social competence within the ever-changing social world. There
is no one source of wind, nor is there one force tilting or turning the pinwheel; the
child and his or her social partners, and the contexts in which they interact, give the
pinwheel its unique impetus at any given time (Planalp, 1999). This model is shown
in Figure 1.
Developmental Process
We believe that the four abilities (awareness, identication, working within the social
context, and management and regulation) within each component (sending, receiving,
and experiencing) develop in sequence as children mature and become more experi-
enced with their own emotions and with social interactions. In our model, each ability
is linked hierarchically within each component and across components. Although indi-
viduals may continue to increase their skill throughout the life-span, we believe that
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
88 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
at least rudimentary forms of preceding abilities within each component must be
present for an individual to start developing subsequent abilities. For example, at least
some level of awareness of ones emotional experience must be present before one can
begin to identify what the experience is, and so on. Once there is a modicum of skill
for each ability, however, it is probable that development of further skill becomes trans-
actional, and skill (or lack of skill) for any ability impacts development of skill in
other abilities. Thus, for example, developing skill in identifying messages that are
communicated by others may later reverberate back to greater development of skill in
becoming self-aware when experiencing ones own emotions. Furthermore, though
development of the abilities likely involves quantitative change, as abilities increase
through practice and experience, we expect that qualitative, transformative changes
also occur concomitant with other aspects of development, such as cognitive matura-
tion. It is beyond the scope of this paper to fully address all the developmental
SELF
world view,
self-concept, demeanor,
temperament, process
orientation, knowledge of
display rules,
implementation strategies,
motivation to interact,
behavioral &
schematic
flexibility
EXPERIENCING
awareness of own affective experience
identifying own feelings
understanding own feelings within emotion
scripts/ongoing flow
managing own emotional
experience: clarity/non-
ruminative, normative,
managing false signals &
real signals
RECEIVING
awareness of message
identifying meaning
understanding meaning
within display rules/ongoing
flow
managing receipt of
messages:
clarity/normative,
managing false signals &
real signals
SENDING
awareness of need to send
message
identifying message to send
sending meaning within display
rules/ongoing flow
managing sending of messages:
appropriate clarity/ normative,
managing false signals & real
signals
Maintaining
appropriate concordance
between receiving and
experiencing affect: Accurately
judging other's affective states while
distinguishing one's own affective
experiences (or not); using knowledge
of other's affective states to identify
one's own; managing one's own
experience so as to be able to focus
resources on
receiving
Maintaining
the flow of
sending and
receiving
messages in an
interactive way:
Letting receiving
influence what you send
(or not); allowing sending to
influence what you receive (or not)
Maintaining
appropriate
concordance
between sending and
experiencing affect:
Sending or not
sending messages
that one is, or is not,
feeling; coming to feel (or
not) the message that one is
sending; managing one's
own experience so as
to focus resources
on sending
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Figure 1. Pinwheel depiction of affective social competence.
Affective Social Competence 89
processes involved in ASC. We do note, in keeping with the relational nature of our
construct, that development of the abilities involves a dynamic interplay between indi-
vidual maturation and the opportunities provided by socialization experiences with
interaction partners.
Additionally, the abilities in all three components of affective social competence
may be enacted consciously, unconsciously, or automatically. We suspect that in the
early stages of developing skill at least some aspects of the process are engaged
in quite deliberately. One of the noteworthy aspects of ASC is that, over time, these
abilities become largely automatic and quick, and we become unaware of the actual
sequential nature of the process. As with development of cognitive and motor skills
(such as learning to walk or learning to drive), quite complex processes may
be engaged in with rapidity and seeming effortlessness by even young children. In
everyday life, when interactions are going well, these general abilities are constantly
interwoven in a seamless manner as the individual interacts with others.
Behavioral Instantiations of ASC
We believe that the underlying structure of affective social competence and the
processes underlying the development of ASC are robust across the life-span and
across culture. The particular instantiations of these abilities, however, will vary across
the life-span, across cultures and sub-cultures, across social contexts, and across goals.
What might be considered as competent at one age, in one culture, in one context, or
for the achievement of one specic goal might not be considered as competent at
another age, in another culture, in another context, or to achieve a different goal. For
example, some school-age children express anger on the playground to assert domi-
nance, and within the school-yard peer culture this works quite well. The same snarling
demeanor may be less likely to help achieve a childs goals with parents or to achieve
later career goals as a stockbroker or a diplomat. Also, some cultures value masking
of negative emotions such as anger, whereas in others, socializers work to increase
their childrens ability to express anger and thereby improve their ability to protect
themselves (Miller & Sperry, 1987). Thus, we do not try in this paper to be prescrip-
tive or to identify specic actions that are always considered as affective social com-
petence. Rather, our focus is on the underlying processes involved in affective social
competence.
Integration of ASC Components
A fourth part of the model includes what we call self-factorsother skills, knowl-
edge bases, motivational aspects, degrees of arousal, and schemas that may inuence
the three areas of sending, receiving, and experiencing. The relationship between the
three components and self-factors should be seen as transactional in that skill in
sending, receiving, and experiencing may reciprocally inuence the self-factors. A
nal part of the model depicts the interconnections between the three components of
affective social competence. Again, skill includes a unique balancing, a dynamism, an
integration between the three components.
We now describe the specic components of the model in detail. As we outline these
components, please refer to Tables 2 and 3 for descriptive examples of how the com-
ponents of ASC might be enacted in everyday situations. We focus our examples and
our description on the preschool and elementary school years only because most
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
90 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
research related to emotional and social competence has focused on this age range.
However, we intend our model to encompass the life-span, and, examples of affective
social competence through adolescence and adulthood may easily be generated using
this model.
Components of the Model of Affective Social Competence
Sending
We begin, somewhat arbitrarily, with sending as our entry point into the pinwheel; as
every parent knows, even newborns are quite effective at signaling their emotional
state. In fact, for very young infants, sending and experiencing affect may be insepa-
rable, so that the experience of displeasure (hunger, wetness, etc.) and the act of crying
are one and the same (Izard, 1977).
Increasingly during the rst year of life, emotional expressions become more instru-
mental, as infants attempt to inuence the social world around them. Smiling is one
of many examples, with infants beginning to smile socially in the second month
of life, and using unfelt smiles with strangers by the tenth month of life (Fox &
Davidson, 1988). As children continue to expand their social world, sending emotional
messages comes to serve the more complicated function of providing peers with infor-
mation about the childs intentions. Sending skill can make or break the social
encounter. And, children need to quickly incorporate information from the other skill
areas (receiving others emotional signals and experiencing emotion) to gauge how
successful their strategies are proving to be, and to determine whether they should
and canmodify their strategies in the current interaction. Individuals may choose to
send affective messages that are consonant with, or that oppose, their emotional
experience, and their choices of which affective messages to send will have a syner-
gistic relationship with the affective messages being received from other participants
in the interaction.
We know that skill in sending messages is an important aspect of peer acceptance.
Children more adept at sending expressive messages were rated as more likable by
peers (Field & Walden, 1982; Nowicki & Duke, 1994), and more accurate senders
in the laboratory were rated by their teachers as more extroverted, more positive
affectively, more popular with peers, and/or better adjusted (Custrini & Feldman, 1989;
Walden & Field, 1990; Zuckerman & Przewuzman, 1979). Additionally, many
researchers have found that children who are more positively expressiveat least
verballyhave better peer relations (Asher, 1983; Denham, McKinley, Couchoud,
& Holt, 1990; LaFrenire & Sroufe, 1985; Putallaz, 1983; Sroufe, Schork,
Motti, Lawroski, & LaFrenire, 1984; Walden, Lemerise, & Gentil, 1992) and some
researchers have found that children who are more negatively expressive have poorer
peer relations (Denham et al., 1990; Rubin & Clark, 1983).
2
But what is it that
successful children (and adults) are doing? We posit four steps.
Awareness that an affective message needs to be sent. The rst sending ability is
awareness that an affective message needs to be sent. For infants and toddlers, aware-
ness that an affective message needs to be sent may be inseparable from awareness
that they are experiencing an emotion. By the preschool years, children may begin to
have a rudimentary awareness of the need to send messages (Blurton-Jones, 1967;
Cheyne, 1976), but no one has examined whether early awareness is or is not associ-
ated with higher levels of skill. For example, awareness at ages 3 or 4 years may be
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Table 2. Descriptive Example of ASC: Entry into a Peer Group
Jasper sees a group of his classmates playing in the kitchen area in his preschool. He is excited and wants to play, too
Component of ASC Descriptive Example for Peer Group Entry Situation
Sending: Jasper realizes that he must send an affective message to the other children.
Awareness
Sending: Jasper decides that he should signal that he is willing to play with the other children, rather than trying to
Identication enact a hostile takeover.
Sending: Regarding display rules, Jasper is eager to join the play scenario that the group has developed. His full
Within Context exuberance upon approach, however, might cause him to be perceived as too aggressive, and thus lead to a
rejection of his bid for entry. Modulating his expression to warmth and interest might cause him to be
perceived as friendly and fun, and thus lead to a more successful bid for entry.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the context, and the characteristics of the interaction partners, Jasper may have
learned through repeated interactions that Annika responds well to his exuberance, but Mickie needs to be
approached more gently. Regarding background processes, Jasper may be aware that Antonio has a cold, and
needs to be approached more gently than usual.
Sending: In sending clearly and concisely, Jasper needs to communicate his interest in joining the play, without being
Management repetitive or ambiguous.
In managing his false signals, Jasper may not be feeling condent that he will be accepted into the group in
the kitchen area, but he knows that he needs to communicate condence to be accepted.
In managing his real signals that are relevant and helpful, Jasper needs to communicate his willingness to be
playful and to follow the groups already-chosen play scenario. At the same time, in managing real signals
that are relevant but inappropriate, he needs to mask his anxiety about being rejected by the other children. In
managing real signals that are irrelevant, Jasper needs to mask his disgust when Antonio sneezes and gets
phlegm all over his hands and the pot he is holding.
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Table 2. continued
Component of ASC Descriptive Example for Peer Group Entry Situation
Receiving: Simply noticing who is responding to him will help Jasper to identify the child most (or least) likely to allow
Awareness him entry into the kitchen play.
Receiving: As Jasper approaches the group of children playing in the kitchen area, he must be able to distinguish
Identication between happy smiles of welcome and smirks of contemptuous rejection. As he becomes more skilled, he
will be able to identify blended messages, such as cautious welcome.
Receiving: Regarding display rules, suppose Jaspers teacher has a rule that children cant tell other children they cant
Within Context play. When Jasper bounds over and asks a group of children if he can play with them, he might more
appropriately interpret a grudging response of well, okay or closed body space as a rejection.
Regarding background processes, Jasper knows that when Antonio has a cold, it takes Antonio longer to
warm up to new playmates. So, a frown or no from Antonio means not yet, rather than no.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the context, and the characteristics of the interaction partners, Jasper may
know from repeated experience that when Annika doesnt answer, that means yes, but when Mickie
doesnt answer, she does not want to be approached.
Receiving: In receiving clearly and concisely, Jasper needs to join in the play when he is offered a spoon by Mickie,
Management rather than repeatedly asking for verbal conrmation.
In managing receipt of false signals, Jasper knows that Antonios frown is actually part of Antonios role as
the mean cook and not a signal that he doesnt want Jasper to join them. Mickies smile is forced, because
she is worried that she will be left out when Jasper joins the group. Jasper acts as if Mickies forced smile is
sincere, and makes sure to include her in their play.
In managing receipt of real signals that are relevant and helpful, Jasper knows that the group has accepted
him when he is offered a spoon by Annika. In managing receipt of real signals that are relevant but
inappropriate, Jasper receives a mixed message from Mickie of welcome to the group blended with fear that
she would be left out once he joins the group. Jaspers sensitivity in receiving both portions of that message
will affect the course of his entry into the group and continued successful play. In managing receipt of
irrelevant signals, Jasper is not put off by Annikas wince when she has just had a pot dropped on her hand.
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Experiencing: Jasper needs to recognize that he is experiencing emotion(s), and perhaps its (their) affective valence, as he
Awareness approaches the other children.
Experiencing: If Jasper is feeling primarily excitement, he may choose a different sending strategy as he approaches the
Identication group than if he is feeling primarily anxiety.
Experiencing: Regarding display rules, Jasper may be worried that he will be rejected by the group but keeps smiling
Within Context anyway because he knows thats what people do when they greet each other. He might remain aware that he
is really nervous about approaching the group of children even though hes not showing it. However, it is
quite possible that in remembering and emphasizing the emotion script of be eager to join the group, he
would change his emotional experience as well.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the context and background processes, Jasper had a great morning at home
and he even won a race during recess, so his good feelings about those events help him counteract his anxiety
about rejection. Regarding his own interaction characteristics, Jasper may realize that he will just get more
nervous if he waits to approach the group, so that it is better to go ahead and approach them while he is very
excited about joining them.
Experiencing: In experiencing clear and non-ruminative emotions, if Jaspers anxiety begins to overtake his excitement at
Management playing in the kitchen he may need to manage his internal experience of the emotions, to regulate the balance
of his blended emotions in a way that facilitates his goal of joining the group.
In managing false signals, Jasper is feeling great about having just won a race. As he approaches the other
children in the kitchen, he focuses on his joy about the race rather than his anxiety about possible rejection.
In managing real, relevant, and useful emotional experiences, Jasper needs to enhance his joy at entering the
group (without overdoing it). In managing relevant, but not useful, emotional experiences, Jasper may realize
that some anxiety at approaching the children playing in the kitchen area is normal, but that overwhelming
anxiety is not. More intense feelings of anxiety might indicate that he should choose a different strategy or
perhaps a different group to approach. In managing irrelevant emotional experiences, Jasper chooses to
ignore his disgust at the amount of phlegm Antonio is producing due to his cold.
94 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
associated with likability at age 7 years, because the other skills have developed from
that awareness. Early awareness may even be associated with likability at that age
simply because awareness alone may cause a child to slow down what she is doing to
consider the situation more carefully, and that alteration of the social process may lead
to more positive outcomes. Of course, knowing what to send is always desirable, and
that is the next step.
Identifying what affective messages to send. Not just any message will do; the indi-
vidual has to determine the appropriate message for the given social context. Children
learn through experience which messages aid them in obtaining their goals, and they
are also instructed by caregivers about situationally appropriate emotional expression,
regardless of whether they are experiencing that emotion (Saarni, 1985). This skill is
an important aspect of peer relations (e.g., Boyatzis & Satyaprasad, 1994; Field &
Walden, 1982; Spence, 1987). In Field and Waldens study, for example, children who
were accurate producers of emotions were rated by their teachers as more affectively
positive, popular, and extroverted. So, the most advantageous affective message for
the situation needs to be determined, and the individual needs to be able to send it
convincingly. This is the next step.
Sending the intended message within the social context. The third sending ability
is understanding how to send the intended message within (a) the constraints of display
rules (sending more, less, or different affective messages than those which are felt,
based on familial or cultural expectations), and (b) the ongoing ow of a context. The
ongoing ow includes the unique (and changing) characteristics of the interaction part-
ners (both the recipient and the sender), background processes, and the overall ow
of the interpersonal exchange. Sending the intended message within the social context
involves choosing an appropriate method and intensity of sending. For example, a
major milestone for toddlers occurs when they learn to express anger through words
rather than by kicking, hitting, or biting others (Kopp, 1989; Shatz, 1994). And very
young children know to wait until a parent is nearby or looking at them before express-
ing their dismay over a minor injury (Blurton-Jones, 1967). In other words, how and
when the emotional communication is sent may be as key to its meaning and even-
tual success or failure as is the simple emotional content. And, both display rules and
the ongoing ow inuence what method and intensity of sending will be most effec-
tive. (Please refer to Tables 2 and 3 for illustrative examples.) This sending ability
implies continual revision of sending strategies and expectations throughout the
process of an interaction. It is one thing to know what to send when given a simple
scenario in a hypothetical situation; it is more complicated to know what and how to
send within the complex and changing action of an interaction. In addition, the most
effective children will integrate their sending skills with their receiving and experi-
encing skills, and accommodate their particular sending strategies to unique charac-
teristics of their interaction partners, of the situation, and of their current experience
(e.g., Fuchs & Thelen, 1988; Underwood, 1997).
Managing the sending of affective messages. The fourth sending ability is manag-
ing ones sending of affective messages. We identify three aspects of management.
First, we believe that, for the most part, it is more affectively socially competent to be
clear and concise in ones communications, although there are always exceptions when
it is more competent to be vague (e.g., in political negotiations or irting), and these
exceptions are likely to vary cross-culturally. Clarity also probably involves using
normative expressions (as dened by the culture, sub-culture, or family to which inter-
action participants belong) so that the communication will be understood.
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Table 3. Descriptive Example of ASC: Peer Conict
Kenya is being teased by the third-grade classroom bully again. She is fed up and wants the taunting to stop
Component of ASC Descriptive Example for Peer Conict Situation
Sending: Kenya realizes that she must send an affective message to the bully.
Awareness
Sending: Kenya chooses to signal condence and anger to the bully, even if she isnt really feeling condent and angry.
Identication
Sending: Regarding display rules, the school enforces strict rules about ghting in school. Kenya is aware that if she is
Within Context caught ghting with the bully she may get suspended. Kenya has had previous success achieving some level
of dominance over the bully with her wit, so she chooses to whisper a scathing insult when poked by the bully
while the teacher has her back turned.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the situation, and the characteristics of interaction partners, Kenya is aware
that she gets less and less condent as the bullys teasing continues, so she needs to send a strong signal soon
to stop the teasing or put up with it all day. Regarding background processes, Kenya has to consider how to
communicate a lack of fear despite being preoccupied with an argument she had with her sister that morning.
Sending: In sending clear and concise signals, Kenya needs to communicate anger and condence without repetition,
Management and without communicating confusion and fear.
In managing false signals, Kenya uses her proud and upright walking style to say I am not afraid of you
and thereby masks her fear. Or, Kenya might look with surprise beyond the bully who is about to hit her, to
convey a false message that the teacher is walking in the door right now, so watch out! And, Kenya
chooses not to send a false signal of being willing to ght, because she knows she would be in trouble on a
number of levels if the bully called her bluff.
In managing real signals that are relevant and helpful, Kenya communicates a healthy appreciation of the
bullys strength concomitantly with masking her fear, so the bully does not perceive either an ego-challenging
threat or an easy victim. In masking real emotions that are irrelevant, Kenya must mask her fear startle at the
re alarm that goes off just as she begins a confrontation with the class bully.
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Table 3. continued
Component of ASC Descriptive Example for Peer Conict Situation
Receiving: Kenya needs to notice the bullys provocation in order to decide whether or how to respond.
Awareness
Receiving: If Kenya misidenties the bullys glowering as sadness, rather than anger, she might try to approach the bully
Identication and would be in for quite a shock.
Receiving: Regarding display rules, Kenya may realize that the bullys whispered taunting when the teacher is in the
Within Context classroom is as threatening as shouted threats on the playground.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the context, and the characteristics of interaction partners, Kenya has her own
well-modulated sending styleshe feels a lot, but sometimes keeps it to herself. To understand the bullys
in your face sending style she may need to realize that the bully is not feeling more than is facially revealed.
Regarding background processes, if the class guinea pig had just died, Kenya might perceive some sadness in
the bullys message about losing the class mascot, rather than concern about winning the ght with Kenya.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the interpersonal exchange, Kenya might have noticed that the class bully
becomes quicker and quicker to follow up threats with punches over the course of the day, so that the bullys
threats in the morning arent as much of a danger sign as the threats are in the afternoon.
Receiving: In receiving clearly and concisely, Kenya does not need repeated taunts to realize that the bully is attempting
Management to provoke her.
In managing receipt of false signals, Kenya would recognize a red herring for what it is, and hold her ground
when the bully feints at her to make her jump. And, if the class bully offers Kenya a token of peace after
poking her, it might be advantageous for Kenya to accept it, even if she doesnt believe that peace is the
bullys actual intention. If all of this is occurring publicly, then the bully might be induced to come to believe
in that self-gesture toward peace.
In managing receipt of real signals (relevant and helpful), whether intentionally sent or not, Kenya may notice
that the bully is trying to provoke a ght, and is trying hard not to feel lonely. Picking up on the message the
bully is trying to bury under her anger may allow Kenya some choices in her responseto invite the bully
into a friendship rather than an adversarial role. Kenya would need to decide which aspect of that message
would be best for her to focus on in managing her conict with the bully both in the immediate situation and
long-term.
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Regarding irrelevant signals, Kenya would realize that the bullys smile to a friend is not, in fact, a sign that
the bully is no longer trying to provoke her.
Experiencing: Kenya needs to recognize that she is experiencing emotion(s), and perhaps its (their) affective valence, in
Awareness response to the bullys provocation.
Experiencing: It is useful for Kenya to be able to distinguish whether she feels anger, fear, sadness, or a blend of emotions,
Identication in response to the bullys teasing. If Kenya feels primarily anger, she may need to focus her efforts on
regulating her physical expression of anger, unless she decides it is to her advantage to express anger in that
way. If Kenya feels primarily sadness, she may need to focus her efforts on protecting her self-esteem.
Experiencing: Regarding emotion scripts, Kenya may be aware that part of her desire to physically confront the bully is due
Within Context to her greater acceptance of anger than fear in response to provocation.
Regarding the ongoing ow of the situation, and background processes, if Kenya has a cold or has had a
previous squabble with her sister, she might recognize that her fear in dealing with the bully and her difculty
nding solutions is partially due to this factors. Regarding her own interaction characteristics, Kenya may
also recognize that her condence in her strategies wanes through the day if the bully is not deterred and in
fact moves in to target her specically.
Experiencing: In experiencing clear and non-ruminative emotions, Kenya may need to regulate her anger at the bully if it
Management becomes ruminative and interferes with her activities long after the bully has ceased to trouble her.
In managing experience of false signals, Kenya may be cold outside and shivering; she needs to recognize
that her shivering is a sign of the changing weather, rather than her emotional experiences regarding the bully.
In managing real, relevant, and useful emotions, it may be important for Kenya to be able to hang onto her
anger with the bully. If Kenya moderates her anger too quickly, she may have a short-term gain of avoiding
the unpleasantness of feeling angry, but she may not have sufcient motivation to attain her long-term goal of
nding an effective way to stop the bullys harrassment. In managing relevant and unhelpful emotions,
Kenya may need to moderate her fear in order to display an effective facade of condence. In managing
irrelevant emotions, if Kenya is still upset because of a ght with her sister that morning, she may need to let
that distress go so that she can focus on the current situation with the bully.
98 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
Second, competence involves managing false signals. This includes knowing both
when and when not to send false messages. We believe, as does Saarni (1990), that
affective social competence generally involves sending emotionally genuine messages,
unless there is some clear and appropriate goal for not doing so. See both Tables 2
and 3 for some of those exceptions in which sending false messages might be more
affectively socially competent for children.
Third, competence involves managing real signals, and there are multiple aspects
of this. The most obvious aspect is sending the emotions that are relevant and helpful
to the social interaction. One of the authors children is extremely skilled at knowing
when to send the good wishes messages that she feels in a conict; these almost
immediately lead to positive conict resolution by all involved.
Knowing what not to send is sometimes as important as knowing what to send.
Thus, a second element of managing real signals involves masking emotions that are
relevant to the social interaction but are inappropriate for the context, and a third
element involves masking emotions that are irrelevant to the social interaction.
Although these skills are quite complex, even four-year-olds are working on achiev-
ing mastery of them (e.g., Cole, 1985, 1986), and as children age, they become expert
in monitoring expressive behavior to facilitate social interaction (Saarni, 1979, 1984,
1989; Saarni & von Salisch, 1993; Zeman, Penza, Shipman, & Young, 1997). There
is now substantial evidence that childrens skill in managing what not to send impacts
peer relations (Black & Hazan, 1990; Dodge, 1983; Putallaz, 1987; Underwood, 1993;
Underwood, Coie, & Herbsman, 1992).
Measurement. There are many ways to assess these skills. First, awareness of the
need to send messages can be identied in ethological studies by observing changes
in childrens facial and body expressions (e.g., Blurton-Jones, 1967; Denham, 1986;
Strayer, 1980) or in studies using videotaped sequences in which children are asked
to press a button when the protagonist should say or do something. Identifying what
message to send can be assessed by creating videotaped sequences of events, stopping
the sequence, and asking the child to say or show what should be communicated
at that moment. Scenarios that assess sending within the social context are more
difcult to create in the laboratory but children as young as preschool age can nd
themselves in a variety of situations. These might include: helping an older child (con-
federate) who is frustrated about completing her Lego structure, or confused about
where the experimenter is, or has lost a computer game; or consoling an adult who
has misplaced her props for her study, or sharing her joy when they are found. Saarnis
market researcher paradigm (1992), in which she asks children to try to cheer up
the market researcher could also be used to assess childrens management skills.
Childrens use of clear, normative expressions; management of false messages; and
managing real signals and masking conicting feelings can all be measured in such
experimental manipulations. In addition, the success of intervention modules (e.g.,
Denham & Burton, 1996), in which children are taught appropriate methods of and
levels of intensity for sending messages, could be measured by assessing childrens
subsequent social standing.
Receiving
The second skill area, receiving others affective signals, is crucial because it provides
immediate feedback about the effects of our own behavior, along with information
about others intentions and the advisability of interacting with them (Lemerise &
Affective Social Competence 99
Gentil, 1992; Walden, et al., 1992). Again, the processes involved in receiving emo-
tional communications have not been carefully delineated. That is our goal below.
Awareness that an affective message is being sent. As in many other models (e.g,
the bystander apathy model of Latan & Darley, 1970), the initial appraisal of anothers
emotion is the essential rst step in receiving skill. A child trying to play with others
or to react effectively to provocation must encode the occurrence of an emotion.
Furthermore, missing affective messages from others makes it more difcult for
children to ne-tune their own sending of affective messages, meaning that they are
less able to follow the process of a social interaction and are less likely to be
effective in the interaction. At least rudimentary skill in awareness and interpretation
of others affect begins in infancy (Haviland & Lelwica, 1987; Ludemann & Nelson,
1988), and is sharpened with time.
Identifying the affective meaning(s) of the message. The second receiving ability is
identifying the affective meaning(s) of the message that has already been detected.
Once perceived, the message must be interpreted accurately. There is substantial
evidence that this skill is associated with peer relations (Boyatzis & Satyprasad,
1993; Custrini & Feldman, 1989; Denham, 1986; Denham et al., 1990; Edwards,
Manstead, & MacDonald, 1984; Field & Walden, 1982; Goldman, Corsini, & de
Urioste, 1980; Hubbard & Coie, 1994; Nowicki & Duke, 1992b, 1994; Philippot &
Feldman, 1990; Vosk, Forehand, & Figueroa, 1983; Walden & Field, 1990;
Zuckerman & Przewuzman, 1979). Most of these tests assess accuracy in identifying
static measures (e.g., posed photographs) in highly controlled settings (e.g., childrens
attention is fully directed toward the experimental task), although these skills are
ordinarily maintained in enormously complex settings. Further, some indirect evidence
suggests that skill in knowing the meanings of affective messages in a static way is
not sufcient; children need to be able to understand and apply that information within
the ongoing ow of an interaction (Keane & Parrish, 1992). That is the next step.
Understanding intended affective meaning(s) within the social context. The third
receiving ability is understanding affective meaning(s) within (a) the constraints of
display rules, and (b) the ongoing ow of a context. Again, the ongoing ow includes
the unique (and changing) characteristics of the interaction partners (both the sender
and the recipient), background processes, and the overall ow of the interpersonal
exchange. And, as with sending, receiving the intended affective meaning includes
recognizing the appropriate intensity and style of the communication. Because of
differences in individual and familial styles of emotional communications (e.g.,
Halberstadt, 1991), affectively socially competent receivers may need to disentangle
their own sending styles from those around them, so as to effectively assess the level
of intensity experienced by the sender (Halberstadt & Hess, 2000).
Research supports the importance of receiving information within the context of
display rules; children who are more skilled at understanding affective messages
within the constraints of display rules are better liked by their peers (Denham, 1986;
Denham et al., 1990; Vosk, Forehand, & Figueroa; 1983). It also seems important for
children not to be overly advanced in their understanding of display rules or decep-
tion, as compared to their peers. Such children may be less positive about school and
less well liked (Denham, 1999; Dunn, 1995), possibly because that awareness may
introduce a tendency to manipulate or doubt others genuineness. We know of no
studies so far that have examined skill in receiving messages within the ongoing ow
of a context in a naturalistic setting; please see Tables 2 and 3 for examples of why
this skill is posited as important. In addition, it is important to consider the receivers
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relationship with the sender (which may vary along the dimensions of familiarity,
friendship, and power), and, of course, the senders skill, as these may also inuence
receiving skill.
Managing receiving of affective messages. In this fourth ability, we again identify
three aspects of management. Tables 2 and 3 provide illustrative examples. First,
this ability involves receiving clear messages without needing multiple repetitions, or
recognizing repetitions for what they are (as opposed to spending time on additional
and unnecessary processing). The clarity of messages must be considered within the
culture, sub-culture, and/or family environment shared between interaction partners.
Families, for instance, may have shared codes for communicating emotions, such
that another family member would clearly understand the emotional communication
sent by, say, a twitching lip, whereas someone who knows the family member less well
might not even be aware of that emotional signal (Halberstadt, 1991). Skill would also
involve noticing individual differences between people in how they send particular
messages.
Second, competence involves managing receipt of false signals. One element of this
is ignoring a false signal when it is more advantageous to do so. A second element of
managing receipt of false signals is accepting a false signal as real when it is more
advantageous to do so.
Third, competence involves the multiple aspects of managing receipt of real signals.
One element of this is picking up on real signals that are relevant and helpful to the
social interaction, whether intentionally sent or not. A second element of managing
the reception of affective messages is choosing whether and how to deal with real
signals that are relevant but not helpful to the social interaction. For example, a child
who lost a game to a friend might unsuccessfully hide her disappointment at losing
under happiness that her friend won. Depending on the circumstances, it might be
more affectively socially competent for the friend to pay more attention to the Im
happy my friend won portion of the message than to the Im disappointed I lost
portion. Children begin understanding that there may be two messages, and perhaps
even two opposing messages, during the later preschool years (Harris, 1989;
Kestenbaum & Gelman, 1995. In fact, kindergartners understanding of mixed emo-
tions is positively related to their sociometric likability (Denham, 1999), suggesting
that children are capable of these skills, and that the relationship between this type of
receiving skill and peer popularity may become evident as early as the kindergarten
and early elementary years.
A third element in managing receipt of real signals is not picking up on (ignoring)
real signals that are irrelevant to the social interaction. Highly expressive individuals
are familiar with the experience of being asked Whats wrong? I noticed you frown-
ing just then when they were not aware of having made any particular facial move-
ment. Low expressive individuals are familiar with another phenomenon, Dont you
care? Youre not responding at all to what Im saying. In both cases, the less affec-
tively skilled individual is perceiving an affective message where none was intended.
In the rst case, the facial movement was noise rather than signal, and in the second
case, the lack of signal had no important internal state meaning.
Measurement. There are many ways to assess these skills. First, awareness that a
message is being sent and identifying what the message is may be assessed with video-
taped sequences; children can be asked to press a button when they notice a message
being conveyed, or they can be asked to identify what exactly the actors are convey-
ing in their messages. Assessing the meanings of messages within the ow of the social
Affective Social Competence 101
context, apart from sending skill, is more difcult. The Interpersonal Perception Test
(Costanzo & Archer, 1986) includes videotaped vignettes in which cues are embed-
ded within the social context. This test has been largely used as a measure of adults
receiving skill; however, Lemerise and Gregory (2000) have adapted it for use with
children. We recommend creating emotionally laden events in the lab. Examples of
useful scenarios include (a) an experimenter is very sad because she cannot nd the
props for her study, (b) two experimenters get into a ght (e.g., Cummings, Iannotti,
& Zahn-Waxler, 1985), (c) a confederate child is sad or angry (happy) because of a
negative (positive) interaction in the presence of, or with, the participant child (e.g.,
Denham, 1986), and (d) a confederate child gets left out of a fun game. Judgments
about whether the child received the message can be made based on changes in non-
verbal behavior and post-event interviews. As for receiving management, creating
win/loss sequences or hidden defects in a computer game (e.g., Friedman &
Miller-Herringer, 1991; Underwood, Hurley, Johanson, & Mosley, 1999) or other
situations in which there is a relevant (or irrelevant) signal to be ignored and a
relevant signal to be noticed would be useful when accompanied by a post-event
interview in which children were asked what they noticed and what they would
respond to.
Experiencing
The third component of affective social competence is skilled experiencing of
emotion. We intend for experiencing of emotion to refer not only to awareness and
recognition of ones own emotions, but also to effective regulation of ones emotional
expression in the context of an ongoing social interaction. However, emotional experi-
ence is important in more than just the service of sending and receiving affective mes-
sages. The success of long-term relationships depends on the ability of relationship
partners to share genuine emotions in a sensitive manner (Saarni, 1990); that is, both
partners need to be able to access and manage their own emotional experiences as well
as be able to communicate with each other.
Historically, assessing the experience of emotion has been difcult. Several
researchers have begun this challenging work, however, and there is now some evidence
that children who are better able to understand their own emotions are more likely to
have positive peer relations (Cassidy, Parke, Butkovsky, & Braungart, 1992). As with
the other two components of affective social competence, there are four abilities to the
skill area of experiencing emotion, and these are progressively mastered by children.
Awareness of ones own affective experience. The rst experiencing ability is the
awareness or recognition that one is experiencing an emotion. This aspect of experi-
encing skill involves a simple recognition that one is experiencing an emotion, and
possibly awareness of the valence of the emotion. Awareness is essential for under-
standing how what one is experiencing might affect ones communications to others
and ones interpretations of others communications. As mentioned above, awareness
of ones own emotional experience is also an important rst step in sharing that experi-
ence with a relationship partner. Saarni (1990) also adds that, with maturity, one might
recognize that one doesnt always have self-awareness due to a variety of unconscious
dynamics.
Identifying ones emotions. The second experiencing ability is appropriately
identifying ones feeling(s).
3
Although a basic positive/negative distinction may be
involved in the rst experiencing ability, this second ability involves a more rened
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interpretation of ones emotional experience. For example, children who chronically
interpret their own sadness as anger might be at risk for becoming aggressive with
peers and therefore rejected by them. Children who chronically interpret their anger
as sadness, on the other hand, might be at risk for becoming withdrawn from peers
and therefore neglected by them. Appropriate interpretation is a critical ability because
misinterpretation can lead to a cascade of feelings and behaviors which, once devel-
oped and enacted, may become increasingly resistant to reorganization.
Understanding ones emotional experience within the ongoing social context. The
third experiencing ability is understanding the meaning(s) of ones own feeling(s)
within (a) the constraints of emotion scripts and (b) the ongoing ow of a context,
including the full context of the unique (and changing) characteristics of the inter-
action partners, background processes, and the overall ow of the interpersonal
exchange. Understanding ones emotional experience within the ongoing social
context is no light task, given the time constraints, distractions of other messages
occurring simultaneously, and often the necessity of an immediate response. Certainly
we have had the experience of realizing only after a conversation is over that we were
offended by something the other person had said. Knowledge of feeling rules may
guide children in selecting aspects of blended emotional experiences on which to
focus, in much the same way as adults are thought to do (Hochschild, 1979). Again,
please refer to Tables 2 and 3 for descriptive examples.
Managing ones emotional experience. The fourth experiencing ability is managing
(regulating) ones emotional experience. This component of affective social compe-
tence builds on the recognition that we have an increasing repertoire of situationally
relevant coping behaviors over timechildren slowly become able to keep their
tempers, or hold back tears, when necessary (e.g., Maccoby, 1983; Kopp, 1992). As
children develop skill in interpreting emotional situations and their own emotion
experiences, they can then begin to negotiate within affective space to come to the
emotional state that they choose as most appropriate. This is emotion regulation, a
large, complex part of ASC which still is not dened to all developmentalists satis-
faction. There are some assertions we can make, however: all elements of emotional
experiencearousal, cognitive construal, and behavioral actioninvolve regulation.
The arousal dimension of emotion regulation is generally organized around the goal
of self-soothing and arousal reduction, but is also sometimes organized toward
increased physiological arousal. The cognitive dimension of emotion regulation
includes refocusing attention and problem-solving reasoning. Behavioral aspects of
emotion regulation encompass expressing appropriate and/or inhibiting inappropriate
expressions, thoughts, or behaviors related to the emotional experience, and getting
organized for coordinated action in the service of ones goal (Gottman & Katz, 1989).
It is no wonder, given this level of complexity, that researchers are both fascinated
and bafed by the management of emotions. We do know that at least the most outward
signs of emotion regulation are associated with peer acceptance. By preschool,
children have a repertoire of coping behaviors (e.g., Fabes & Eisenberg, 1992;
Kenealy, 1989). Children who can manage their emotional experience in the context
of emotionally-arousing types of play are more successful in peer relationships
(Hubbard & Coie, 1994), whereas children who routinely experience high intensity
emotions, but who do not have constructive ways of managing those emotional experi-
ences, often engage in socially inappropriate behaviors and are at risk for low peer
status (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992; Eisenberg, et al., 1993, Eisenberg, Fabes, Nyman,
Bernzweig, & Pinuelas, 1994; Eisenberg, et al., 1995; Rubin, Coplan, Fox, & Calkins,
Affective Social Competence 103
1995). We are less successful, so far, at elucidating the less easily observed aspects of
ASC inherent within the management of emotion. What is it, exactly, that successful
children (and adults) are doing? We posit three aspects of management. As before,
please refer to Tables 2 and 3 for descriptive examples.
First, this ability involves experiencing clear (rather than diffuse or vague) and non-
ruminative feelings. Being clear about ones feelings enables one to then make choices
about whether to and how to manage that emotional experience. Second, competence
involves managing false signals, for example, knowing when to ignore self-signals
that dont truly reect ones feeling states. Managing false signals also involves
knowing when those signals may be used to facilitate communication and achieve a
desired goal.
The third aspect of competence involves the multiple aspects of managing real
signalsknowing what to feel and what not to feel. One obvious element is retaining
and/or enhancing the emotions that are relevant and helpful to the social interaction.
A second element in this is attenuating emotions that are relevant but not helpful to
ones goals (e.g., I simply remember my favorite things and then I dont feel so sad.)
4
It is a real accomplishment to be able to direct ones own experience to something not
initially experienced. A third element in managing real signals is dampening emotions
that are irrelevant to the social interaction. It is important to note that these aspects of
management do not always involve dampening negative or uncomfortable emotions.
Being able to moderate emotional intensity when it threatens to be overwhelming, to
enhance emotional intensity when necessary to reach short-term or long-term goals,
and to shift between emotion states by using various coping means will help children
to maintain more genuine, and satisfying, relations with others. Again, these are
complex skills that many individuals struggle to achieve or further develop as
adults. Nevertheless, we can generate multiple examples of children as young as
kindergarten age showing evidence of these skills. The trick is in articulating what the
phenomena are (our goal in this paper), and then measuring those phenomena as they
are exemplied at different age levels. Ideas for developing measurement techniques
follow.
Measurement. Knowledge of childrens experience of emotion has been difcult to
obtain, however, new techniques may facilitate access of these relatively internal
states. First, for awareness that one is experiencing a feeling, children might be
exposed to emotion-inducing events or movies and asked to press a button to indicate
when they experience emotional arousal (e.g., Chisholm & Strayer, 1995). Compari-
sons between childrens physiological indices and self-report (either to an experi-
menter or to a parent, or using the classic bogus pipeline technique which increases
the likelihood of truthful self-report, Jones & Sigall, 1971) might also help assess
childrens self-awareness and identication of emotional states.
As for understanding ones own emotional experiences within the ongoing social
context, in vivo situations might be videotaped in laboratory settings or captured on
videotape in school or home settings so that children could watch these videotapes
shortly after the event and report what they were feeling using a continuous self-rating
dial (Levenson & Gottman, 1983) or verbal self-report. Saarnis market researcher
paradigm (1992) might assess this task of managing ones own feeling signals; helping
the market researcher cheer up requires an empathic response to the situation, without
being ooded by the researchers sad affect. A game competition paradigm could also
be utilized with middle-school children; this task might assess regulation of competi-
tive feelings and anger if the game is rigged or if children are given conicting sets
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of rules (Hartup, French, Laursen, Johnston, & Ogawa, 1993; von Salisch &
Uhlendorff, 1999, Underwood, et al., 1999). If physiological measures such as heart
rate elevation reect contagion responses (Bugental, Cortez, & Blue, 1992), we can
also measure childrens ability to regulate their own affective states. These techniques
may well be applicable to preschool and kindergarten-age children. Of course,
outcome measures may be different for children of different ages (Bugental, et al.,
1992). The classic disappointment paradigm (Cole, 1986; Saarni, 1984) might also be
used with young children to assess the degree to which and how children regulate
emotion; immediately following the disappointment experience, children could be
asked how they felt about getting the disappointing gift (manipulation check) and what
they thought afterward (e.g., continue to think about the disappointing gift, their great
toys at home, the new toy they might get from a parent, etc.).
Interconnections among the Three Components of Affective
Social Competence
Ideally, in real life, the three components of affective social competence ow together
seamlessly within the social interaction, so that they are transparent to the partners in
the interaction. And, all three components must be integrated for the most advanced
affective social competence. For example, individuals who are extremely skilled at
sending and receiving affective communication, but are unable (or unwilling) to inte-
grate their emotional experience would likely be perceived as slick, perhaps as a
manipulator, rather than as affectively socially competent.
Thus, an important aspect of affective social competence is the ability to integrate
and control the overlap between these skill areas of sending, receiving, and experi-
encing emotions. One must maintain both ones affective veracity and ones affective
control; that is, responding in a genuine and honest way, and being true to ones emo-
tional experience, while simultaneously monitoring ones expression with respect to
both the abilities and limitations of the other, in a transactional manner. During any
social interaction, one must accurately judge the others affective state while distin-
guishing, and retaining when appropriate, ones own affective experiences. And, one
must regulate how much of ones own emotional experience is communicated, how
much the sending of ones affective messages reverberates back into emotional experi-
ence, which messages to receive, how to interpret them, and how much they should
inuence ones emotional experience.
We suspect that skilled receivers who can maintain an equilibrium in their own
affective experience, without cost from knowing what others really think, will have
the most positive peer relations. For them, skill in receiving others negative commu-
nications may be advantageousfor example, the child whose feelings arent badly
hurt when a friend suggests better hygiene may benet from this feedback to t in
better with his group. Further, understanding how their feelings t with the situa-
tional context, and acceptance of those feelings, may help children choose more effec-
tive sending strategies, and more appropriately interpret the affective messages they
receive from others. Thus, skill in managing experiencing also seems to interact with
receiving. For example, it may be that the accurate interpretation of others emotions
activates a sympathetic emotional response (Eisenberg, 1986).
To return to our two examples in Tables 2 and 3, Jasper and Kenya need to skill-
fullyand quicklyintegrate all three skill areas as they deal with their social situa-
tions. Jasper needs to choose and act upon a sending strategy with which to approach
Affective Social Competence 105
the children playing in the kitchen area. Jaspers sending strategy must be at least
somewhat congruent with what he is experiencing; if he is feeling somewhat anxious,
a false front of condence may be found out and lead to non-acceptance in the group.
Jasper must also gauge the childrens responses to his bids to enter the group, and
moderate his actions, based on his interpretation of their affective signals.
Being older, Kenyas tasks are more complex. She needs to determine how serious
the class bully is while taunting her, and choose a strategy for dealing with the bully
based on her interpretation of the bullys current emotional experience and her aware-
ness of her own emotional reaction. While implementing a strategy for dealing with
the bully, Kenya needs to monitor her own emotional experience to ensure that she is
not leaking emotions in a way that will sabotage her sending strategy, to shift her emo-
tional experiences in a way that will enhance her sending strategy, and to carefully
monitor the bullys reactions to her strategy to determine whether to continue with it
or to try a new strategy. For both Jasper and Kenya, the social context demands a
continual, seamless integration of their skills in sending, receiving, and experiencing
emotions.
Self-Factors inuencing Affective Social Competence
Additional factors that inuence the three components of affective social competence
also need to be recognized. These factors are not directly part of the affective social
competence system, but they impinge upon it. Several factors that we have identied
include ones world view, self-concept or self-schema, demeanor, temperament,
process orientation toward relationships, knowledge of display rules, knowledge of
implementation strategies, motivation to interact with others and to be skilled in those
interactions, and behavioral and schematic exibility. Because of space limitations,
we discuss only ve of these factors below.
World view
An inuence that seems integral to ones affective social competence is ones world
view, which guides predictions or expectations of others. Social psychologists refer to
these as person, role, and event schemas (Barone, Maddux, & Snyder, 1997); devel-
opmental psychologists refer to these as internal working models of the world
(Bretherton, 1990). An example of what we mean might be, do we tend to view others
in a hostile way, expecting that they will use us for their own designs, or in a positive
way, expecting that this person is a fun playmate of value, who can enrich our games
and choices? Whether positive or negative, when these schemas t the situation they
may facilitate the receiving of affective cues. When they are different, they will inhibit
accurate or alternative judgments of affective meaning. For example, if Kenya assumes
that the class bully could be a fun person, her recognition of the affective meaning of
the bullys message might be altered. She might recognize that the bully has only
learned one mode of social interaction (i.e., bullying), and, instead of focusing on the
bullys hostility, she might consider the bullys underlying motive to avoid loneliness.
This realization, in turn, might lead her to propose a more friendly interaction, such
as running a race together. Mounting evidence suggests that children with a more
secure internal working model are more skilled at accurately receiving emotional com-
munication (DeMulder, Denham, Schmidt, & Mitchell-Copeland, 1999; Labile &
Thompson, 1997). Similarly, those who view others through the lens of a hostile
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attribution bias (i.e., the world does mean things to me on purpose) are unlikely to
read their peers emotional messages accurately (Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge &
Somberg, 1987). Finally, those who perceive social interactions as anxiety-producing
are less likely to send believable messages, whether they are telling the truth or not,
at least in adulthood (Riggio, Tucker, & Throckmorton, 1987).
Self-concept and Self-schema
Children with positive self-concepts tend to be more persistent in sending positive or
playful messages when attempting to engage peers in play activities, and they are also
successful at keeping their own anxiety about the interaction at a relatively low level
(e.g., Lopez & Little, 1996). This kind of self-optimism or self-belief maintains the
turning motion of the affective social competence pinwheel, rather than getting it hung
up in rumination or a positive feedback loop stuck in experiencing. By maintaining
low levels of anxiety, positive self-concept allows system resources to be more exclu-
sively devoted to the other tasks at hand. Childrens self-schemas, or their predictions
and expectations about themselves, may aid or hinder their affective social compe-
tence in a similar manner as their world views. For example, children who place a
great deal of importance on their own physical achievements may be more quick to
respond physically to a challenge from a bully, whereas those who value their verbal
skills may attempt to negotiate their way out of an altercation (Douthitt, 1994; Losier
& Vallerand, 1994). Also, children who perceive themselves as worthy of being treated
well may more quickly make a stand against a bully. In contrast, children with more
negative views of self may show their vulnerability via overreliance on others affec-
tive cues, rather than their own, to guide their behavior; they attend to others sent
messages rather than their own experiences (Baumeister, 1993).
Demeanor
Ones demeanor can inuence the sending of all messages, such that one can be per-
ceived by others as generally hostile or generally positive (see DePaulo, 1992 for a
summary). A persistent expression of hostility may reduce ones affective competence
by making it more difcult to send positive or sad messages, whereas an expression
of positivity (whether intentional or the result of being physiognomically blessed) may
increase the difculty of sending any negative messages. Jaspers demeanor, for
example, may affect the likelihood of successfully gaining entry to the play activities
in the kitchen, especially if these are children who do not know Jasper very well
(Nowicki & Oxenford, 1989).
Temperament
Dispositional characteristics (whether inherent in the individual or developed over
early life experiences) may directly impact individuals affective social competence.
For example, two important dimensions affecting how young children manage their
own emotional experience are the stable individual difference characteristics of emo-
tional intensity (e.g., latency, threshold, rise time) which dene the parameters of
stress, and the attentional processes which facilitate coping attempts (e.g., attentional
shifting or focusing, and voluntary initiation or inhibition of action; Eisenberg &
Fabes, 1992; Eisenberg et al., 1993, 1994, 1995). Children who routinely experience
Affective Social Competence 107
intense emotion and are less able to focus or shift attention could have difculty in all
three aspects of affective social competence; they may send messages inappropriately,
they may have difculty receiving accurate messages, and they may have difculty
becoming aware of and appropriately labeling their own emotions. Skill levels in one
component (e.g., managing emotional experience) may also moderate the effects of
temperament on skill in other components (e.g., sending appropriately or understand-
ing others messages; Eisenberg, et al., 1996; Murphy & Eisenberg, 1997). Continued
research linking dimensions of temperament with parental as well as peer relations
could be very fruitful.
Process Orientation
Children who perceive the ebb and ow of interaction, the turn-taking, the continu-
ous nature of relationship, and that a rejection at one moment may or may not predict
rejection at a later moment, are probably going to achieve greater affective social com-
petence (Coie & Kupersmidt, 1983; Dodge, 1983). If Jasper understands that initial
rejection does not necessarily predict additional rejections, he may continue to try
group entry even after an initial failure. Rather than internalizing his failure as some-
thing to do with himself (activating a positive or negative self-concept), he will con-
tinue to watch how others succeed in gaining entry. Perceiving friendships as a process,
and as relationships that are developed and maintained, rather than dichotomous
experiences that are on or off (Asher, 1983), Jasper may develop greater patience
at achieving his goals. This patience may pay off when he allows himself more time
to watch others skills, and in terms of developing greater self-awareness.
Thus, each of these self-factors may reverberate in a variety of ways through the
three skill areas and the various interactive processes of affective social competence.
Specifying their interaction with elements of affective social competence is useful to
fully understanding its workings at any moment in time.
Relevant Research with Nonnormative Populations
Now we turn to discussion of affective social competence in nonnormative popula-
tions of children. Our purpose here is twofold, consonant with the organizational
perspective of developmental psychopathology (Cicchetti, 1984). That is, examining
developmental phenomena that are qualitatively or quantitatively different from those
most children experience informs our understanding of normative development, and
our understanding of normative development fuels new explorations that may benet
children who are not developing normatively.
Accordingly, we have chosen three nonnormative populations in which to examine
perturbations in affective social competence. First, because autism is characterized by
extensive decits in both cognitive and social-emotional domains, autistic children
may be expected to have both quantitatively and qualitatively impoverished abilities
in the component areas of affective social competence. Second, diagnosed behavior
disorder implies impulsivity and aggression, both of which could threaten a childs
affective social competence development. Third, child maltreatment entails an emo-
tionally negative family environment that might compromise a childs affective social
competence development. For each group, we found major decits in affective social
competence, but despite the substantial literatures on each group, it is difcult to dis-
entangle the specic abilities and sometimes the domains that are challenging these
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108 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
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populations. This dearth has only reafrmed for us the need to assess specic skills
so as to develop specic intervention goals.
Autism. Autistic childrens affective sending abilities do seem to be compromised
relative to non-diagnosed childrens abilities. Autistic children are less able to imitate
others emotions than are mental-age-matched preschoolers (Hertzig, Snow, &
Sherman, 1989), and although autistic preschoolers display facial expressions at a
similar frequency to non-diagnosed children, they are often incongruent to the situa-
tion, for example smiling after being hit by another child (McGee, Feldman, &
Chernin, 1991). We cannot tell, however, whether autistic children are challenged by
all or just some of the rst three sending abilitiesare they not aware of the need to
send messages, are they not clear about what messages to send, or are they unable to
do so within the ongoing ow of social exchanges? It is also possible that the
preschoolers incongruent facial expressions are accurately reecting their internal
state; thus, research assessing more specically which processes are at risk will allow
for successful interventions to be developed.
Autistic childrens affective receiving abilities also seem compromised. Dawson and
colleagues have found that autistic children do not attend to social messages, such as
having their name called (Dawson, Meltzoff, Osterling, Rinaldi, & Brown, 1998). This
decit is already evident in videotapes of autistic and normally developing childrens
rst-year birthday parties (Osterling & Dawson, 1994). This may indicate difculty
with awareness that a social message has been sent. Baron-Cohen (1991) found that
autistic childrens understanding of basic, unequivocal emotional situations, such
as going to the zoo, was delayed, but no more so than that of mentally retarded non-
autistic children. However, autistic children did show decits in comprehension of
emotions caused by beliefsJenny is sad because she believes her brother is about to
take her toy away forever. From these results, it is difcult to determine whether
autistic childrens decit in understanding emotions caused by beliefs is due to
compromised receiving ability independently of the other abilities. Their decits in
belief-relevant emotions could be explained by the interaction of experiencing or
sending with receiving abilities; that is, autistic children may not have developed
schemas for such emotional situations.
Additionally, autistic children spend less time looking at distressed or fearful adults,
and focus on objects instead (Sigman, Kasari, Kwon, & Yirmiya, 1992); thus, inter-
vention to augment their affective social competence might need to occur at the aware-
ness stage of receiving, or in regulating their experience of affect while processing
affective information from others. Regarding autistic childrens experiencing abilities,
research in this area is particularly sparse; we know of only one recent study that has
addressed autistic childrens experience of emotion. Steinhilber, Jones, and Dunsmore
(1999) found that autistic and age-matched normally developing children who were
presented with a pleasant surprise (e.g., a live rabbit) showed similar increases in heart
rate, suggesting somewhat similar physiological experiences of the emotion event.
Autistic childrens facial expressions, however, were coded as more ambiguous than
were normally developing childrens, suggesting either different self-interpretations of
their physiological arousal, or different expressions of their experience of emotion. In
conjunction with the many ndings that autistic children rarely engage in joint atten-
tion (e.g., Dawson, et al., 1998; Lewy & Dawson, 1992; Osterling & Dawson, 1994;
Steinhilber, et al., 1999), these results are also suggestive that more complex inter-
actions of the components of affective social competence may be involved in autism.
In particular, interactions involving the self-factor of motivation for engagement in (or
Affective Social Competence 109
tolerance for) social interaction, and the interrelations between cognition and emotion,
seem likely.
Behavior disorder. The emotional sending of behavior-disordered children is quali-
tatively different than that of non-disordered children. Behavior-disordered children
send emotional messages that are proportionally more negative than those of non-
disordered children (American Psychiatric Association, 1987). Preschoolers at risk for
behavior disorder, with more externalizing symptoms, showed more extreme responses
to a negative mood induction lm than did other preschoolers, showing either no nega-
tive emotion, or only negative emotion in response to the lm (Cole, Zahn-Waxler, Fox,
Usher, & Welsh, 1996; Cole, Zahn-Waxler, & Smith, 1994). It is possible that these
extreme patterns may be related to ineffective or brittle efforts at managing their emo-
tional experience as well as difculties in the sending domain.
There is also robust evidence that children who are behavior disordered or at risk
for behavior disorder show decits in their ability to receive others emotional mes-
sages (Casey & Schlosser, 1994; Cook, Greenberg, & Kusch, 1994; Nowicki & Duke,
1994; Russell, Stokes, Jones, Czogalik, & Rohleder, 1993; but see Cole, Usher &
Cargo, 1993). Decits appear during the early stages of receiving messages in that
behavior-disordered children spend less time scanning the social environment and,
consequently, recall fewer details of emotional stimuli (Casey & Schlosser, 1994).
Receiving skill in these children is also moderated by self-factor differences; their
hostile world views lead them to attribute hostile intentionality to others more often
than nondisordered children (Casey & Schlosser, 1994; Dodge & Frame, 1982; Dodge,
Murphy, & Buchsbaum, 1984; Dodge & Somberg, 1987).
Behavior-disordered children also appear to have decits in their ability to experi-
ence emotions. They may have less awareness of their own affective experience, and
they clearly have more difculty identifying and understanding their own feelings
compared to non-diagnosed children (Casey & Schlosser, 1994; Cook et al., 1994).
Their abilities to constructively manage and regulate their emotions are also dimin-
ished. They may express emotions impulsively as they are felt (Greenberg, Kusch, &
Speltz, 1991), displaying their anger at inappropriate times (Cole, et al., 1994);
alternatively, they may show brittle control or denial of negative emotion (Cole,
et al., 1994).
Finally, behavior disordered children appear to be less well able to integrate their
nonverbal skills compared to non-diagnosed children (Russell et al., 1993); they have
more difculty sending, receiving, and experiencing simultaneously. In summary,
behavior-disordered children seem to have decits in all three components of affec-
tive social competence. Again, our model may help in distinguishing the various levels
of processing. When children are failing at the initial skills of awareness and identi-
cation, for any of the components, interventions need to begin there; when children
are experiencing difculties developing skill within the ongoing ow of an inter-
action, or with managing the complex aspects of real and false messages, or with inter-
actions across domains, interventions need to begin there.
Maltreatment. In terms of sending ability, decits appear at the initial skill of aware-
ness. For example, maltreated toddlers are less likely to use internal state words com-
pared to non-maltreated toddlers, and even when they do use internal state words, they
do so in a more restricted manner than do non-maltreated toddlers (Beeghly &
Cicchetti, 1994). This restriction in verbal sending of emotional messages also has
implications for childrens regulation of emotions, as language use is one way of
constructively managing emotion experience.
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110 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
In terms of receiving, maltreated children seem less able to recognize photographs
of child and adult expressions (During & McMahon, 1991) or to recognize pure and
masked emotions (Camras, Ribordy, & Hill, 1988; Cassidy et al., 1992) than non-
maltreated children. Maltreated children may also have difculties with the intersec-
tion of receiving and experiencing. Maltreated children do not habituate to interadult
hostility involving their mothers as non-maltreated children do. They become aroused
and aggressive themselves, attempting to help or comfort their mothers, or intervene
in the conict on their mothers behalf (Cummings, Hennessey, Rabideau, & Cicchetti,
1994). Cummings research suggests that maltreated children may be receiving the
emotional messages inherent in interadult hostility, but have trouble managing the con-
tagion of affect they experience. However, their ability to receive affective messages
from their maltreating mothers may be adaptive in their situation.
In terms of experiencing abilities, maltreated children, compared to non-maltreated
children, show decits on self-reported empathy measures (Straker & Jacobson, 1981)
and show more inappropriate responses (such as anger, aggression, or withdrawal) to
their peers distress (Howes & Eldredge, 1985; Klimes-Dougan & Kistner, 1990; Main
& George, 1985). They also show more depressed/dysthymic and anxious affect than
do non-maltreated children (Toth, Manly & Cicchetti, 1992), indicating that, along
with sending very negative messages, they may be less able to constructively manage
their emotional experience, or they may have more emotional experience to manage.
It also is likely that maltreated children have difculties with the intersection of
sending and experiencing. They may not be identifying the appropriate messages to
send (or to feel); they show more anger and more situationally inappropriate and
inexible emotions than do non-maltreated children (Erickson, Egeland & Pianta,
1989; Shields, Cicchetti & Ryan, 1994). Finally, being maltreated by parents exposes
children to inappropriate models of social relationships, and may well affect self-
factors such as childrens world view about others intentions, self-concept regarding
self as in control, and behavioral and schematic exibility; these differences in turn
reverberate back into the affective social competence system.
There are many gaps to ll in our understanding of the affective social competence
of maltreated children. Without precise focus on the four specic skills of experienc-
ing affect, it is difcult to assess whether maltreated children are able to identify and
understand their own feelings within the social context and to manage their own emo-
tional experience as well as non-maltreated children, or whether maltreated children
are constructively responding to the kinds of threats that their environment poses for
them and their mothers.
Conclusions
The model we have delineated includes three components of affective social compe-
tence; and within each component, four abilities; and within the fourth ability, that is,
management and regulation, three forms of management. In addition, there are at least
nine self-factors that inuence skill in each of the three components of affective social
competence. Although we have begun a discussion of the numerous interactions
between the components, it is probably safe to say that, given the transactional nature
of those interrelationships, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Affective social
competence is complex.
So what are Jasper and Kenya to do? At this point in our understanding of affec-
tive social competence, it is not possible to advise either Jasper or Kenya as to the
Affective Social Competence 111
specic set of actions they should take. We might suggest initial actions with which
to begin their interactions, but until we can predict responses (which are partially up
to the affective social competence of the interactants as well), we cannot direct the
course of their social relationships from our keyboard. Nor will we want to, because
part of the concept of affective social competence is having the skills to create the
kinds of social interactions one desires, in vivo. In addition, there are probably multi-
ple paths to desired outcomes, and possibly multiple desirable outcomes. Thus, the
ultimate goal in terms of application is to help developing individuals become more
able to understand the social context of the moment so as to best determine action, to
gure out what messages are appropriate at particular moments in time and to com-
municate those messages, and to maintain appropriate affect, given the particular
social context. We need, therefore, to teach process, rather than specic lists of actions.
Strategies that might help teach process include encouraging taking time out from the
interaction to assess whether a particular strategy is working, persistence in trying
strategies, patience with and acceptance of variability in others emotion states, and
teaching children schemas for understanding others that focus on labelling behaviors
rather than labelling persons (e.g., state rather than trait assessments).
This leads to the nal question: what are we to do? As researchers following the
time-honored tradition, our rst step is to continue the process of description. Our
model may not be complete, and we expect that studies using this model will be able
to more fully explicate the various levels and skills that may be considered affective
social competence. However, by organizing the multiple aspects of affective social
competence into a coherent, hierarchically-layered, and dynamic whole, the complex
reality of affective social competence becomes both understandable and manageable.
As researchers we can now turn the pinwheel and better understand how all the pieces
move, and move in synchrony. We can be clear with one another about what it is that
we are investigating, within a level of complexity commensurate with the phenomena
we are studying. We can plot developmental change in each of the abilities outlined
here. Finally, by more fully describing the processes of affective social competence,
we move closer to explanations of how or why those processes work, and to further
optimizing development.
Continued description needs to pay close attention to the diversity of populations
and settings, as well as to how contexts particular to populations or settings change
with the childs age (Boyce et al., 1998). Again, as with other developmental processes
(Rowe, Vazsonyi, & Flannery, 1994), we believe that the processes of affective social
competence will be fairly robust cross-culturally, although the goals and content of
behavior will be somewhat culturally specic. Because we have such a plenitude of
one-shot studies in the laboratory that examine one skill or another, we now need to
consider more than one component or ability level simultaneously, and to do so within
the context of real interactions in real settings. And, because interaction partners and,
in particular, socialization agents play a crucial role in childrens development and
performance of affective social competence, how caregivers and teachers can scaffold
developing others affective social competence is an important area of investigation
(see for example, Dunsmore & Halberstadt, 2000; Hyson & Lee, 1996).
Moving beyond description, there are now multiple paradigms to recommend
in studying affective social competence. First, we advocate a return to ethological
studies in which children are studied in more natural contexts, with one or two tink-
erings within the setting. Second, we suggest further development of laboratory para-
digms in which, for example, a market researcher needs cheering up (Saarni, 1992),
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
112 Amy G. Halberstadt, Susanne A. Denham and Julie C. Dunsmore
Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001 Social Development, 10, 1, 2001
a confederate peer wins a game (Friedman & Miller-Herringer, 1991; Underwood, et
al., 1999), a confederate child gets hurt or makes personal comments about the par-
ticipant child (Casey, 1993; Denham, 1986), the target child is invited to enter an
already-constituted group of peers, or a confederate bully enters the research room.
Third, the Levenson and Gottman (1983) technique of videotaping in vivo events and
then asking the participants to rate themselves continuously (using a dial) while watch-
ing their videotaped interactions may be useful for children in the elementary school
years as well as older children and adults. Fourth, evaluating classroom interventions
in which teachers use precise awareness and/or identication modules in their teach-
ing compared to those who dont will help validate the model (e.g., Denham & Burton,
1996; Greenberg, Kusch, Cook, & Quamma, 1995; Hyson, 1994). The critical dimen-
sions of more inclusive approaches to an emotion-centered classroom could be care-
fully catalogued. And the affective social competence and peer relationship outcomes
for children in these classrooms compared to children in classrooms that do not use
emotion-centered curricula could be measured and used to assess the importance of
each aspect of affective social competence.
With normal populations there is much to be done. The opportunity to develop
individual proles is promising; trained observers can now provide comprehensive
proles of childrens behavior, thereby providing detailed information about strengths
and weaknesses within the ongoing ow of particular contexts. We can also begin
the process of measuring childrens skill levels in each of the components and
assessing specic relations with various peer relations measures (e.g., sociometric
status, close friendships, social problem-solving skills). Of course, we predict
bidirectional causality between affective social competence and peer relations (Karn
& Dunsmore, 2000).
With challenged populations, there is also much to be done, particularly with an
eye to intervention programs. First, now that the specic abilities within each com-
ponent have been delineated, basic research can identify relative decits within par-
ticular populations, and thus, help target goals for intervention programs. Second, our
model can also lead to the generation of much needed assessment tools and methods
(Denham, Lydick, Mitchell-Copeland, & Strandberg-Sawyer, 1996), laying out all the
puzzle pieces (Nowicki & Duke, 1992a, p. 20). Proles of ASC abilities, even within
groups, could be created from such assessments (e.g., Gottman, Guralnick, Wilson,
Swanson, & Murray, 1997). Then, once the components and abilities of affective social
competence can be assessed, individual and group interventions can proceedthe
puzzle can be solved (Nowicki & Duke, 1992a, p. 25).
Maintaining social relationships is an integral part of being human. Individuals
who are unable to maintain effective, satisfying social interactions not only have dif-
culty completing basic life tasks, but are also at risk for a plethora of mental and
physical health problems (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1996). We believe that further
investigation, beginning with and then building on our model of affective social com-
petence, will be key not only in advancing our understanding of childrens develop-
ing affective social competence, but also in furthering efforts to maximize human
potential.
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Notes
1. We would like to note, however, that affective social competence is not synonymous with peer status.
Though we expect that more affectively socially competent children will have reciprocal friendships and
tend to be better liked by their peers, we recognize that there are many factors that contribute to peer popu-
larity and rejection. Thus, the most affectively socially competent children may not be the most popular
children in their peer group.
2. It is important to recognize that the link between positive expressiveness and quality of peer rela-
tions may be related to childrens emotional experience in a cyclical manner. That is, children who have
more positive emotional experiences may be more positively expressive, which leads to better peer rela-
tions and perhaps to more positive emotional experiences. Further, it is important to note that peer research
is only now beginning to focus on sending affective communicationthis literature has been surprisingly
cognitive until recent years.
3. Although many emotion theorists might prefer the term accurately to appropriately, work on the
social construction of emotional experience no longer allows us to ignore the myriad ways in which we
(and others) construct our affective worlds through labeling (e.g., Averill, 1982; Hochschild, 1979; Saarni,
1985, 1989), thus making the term accurately a misnomer.
4. Julie Andrews, playing Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, sings My Favorite Things (Rodgers
& Hammerstein, 1959).
5. The affectively socially competent individual needs to be able to identify what the other person is
communicating affectively, but should not necessarily incorporate that message into her own feelings or
goals. In other words, if Jasper approaches the other children and receives a message of contempt, he
shouldnt buy their message and feel self-contempt.
Author Note
Amy G. Halberstadt, Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University; Susanne A. Denham,
Department of Psychology, George Mason University; Julie C. Dunsmore, Department of Psychology,
Hamilton College.
Portions of this paper were initially presented by Amy Halberstadt and students in her graduate Social
Development seminar in a symposium chaired by Marion Underwood and Audrey Zakriski, Affective com-
ponents of social competence: Childrens abilities to send and receive emotional cues, conducted at the
1993 meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans. We thank Sara Wrenn in
particular for her initial development of the pinwheel design for Figure 1.
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