Children's strategies for controlling affective responses to aversive social experience

John C. Masters*, Martin E. Ford, Richard A. Arend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


It was hypothesized that one mechanism of self-control that children develop is the strategic capacity to select the experiences they encounter. This hypothesis led to the prediction that children would deal with certain aversive social experiences by seeking out or taking advantage of opportunities for nurturant experiences. Young children were exposed to an aversive social experience in which they received less nurturance than a peer, a positive experience in which they received more nurturance, or a neutral experience in which nurturance was equal. Subsequently, an opportunity was provided for children to control the length of time they watched a highly nurturant television program. As predicted, boys experiencing an aversive social encounter increased the length of time they exposed themselves to the nurturant television show, and their level of reduced positive affect was related to how long they watched the nurturant content, further supporting the interpretation that they did so in response to their own affective state. Girls did not adopt the strategy of self-exposure to nurturant television but did appear to engage in self-distraction during the aversive social experience. Despite the apparent use of control strategies, there was no indication that these strategies were effective for the amelioration of reduced positive affect resulting from the aversive social experience. Discussion focuses on the sex differences observed in the adoption of strategic behavior and factors contributing to the ineffectiveness of the control strategies. A general model is proposed for personal and environmental factors requisite for the selection, employment, and effectiveness of strategies to control experiences and their affective consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-116
Number of pages14
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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