Abstract: Socioemotional Disposition, Environmental Context, and Asian American Mental Health (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Socioemotional Disposition, Environmental Context, and Asian American Mental Health

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Park, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Yoonsun Choi, PHD, Professor, University of Chicago, IL
Annabelle Lin Atkin, Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Arizona State University, AZ
Purpose: Both nature (e.g., predispositions) and nurture (e.g., environments) matter in youth development. For example, the developmental propensity model identifies three predispositions as significant predictors of externalizing problems: Daring (positive response to novelty/risk), prosociality (sympathetic response to others) and negative emotionality (negative emotional response to threat/frustration/loss). In line with the nature-nurture interaction, the effects of predispositions may be buffered or exacerbated by the characteristics of surrounding environments. During adolescence and emerging adulthood, externalizing and internalizing problems often share etiology. Thus, it is plausible that predispositions may also determine internalizing problems. Asian American (AA) youth exhibit low externalizing but high internalizing problems, termed as the “AA youth Paradox.” This mixed developmental pattern provides a unique opportunity to better understand how predispositions and environments independently or together explain distinct dimensions of AA youth problems. This study examines (1) how predispositions and environmental contexts longitudinally predict externalizing and internalizing problems of AA youth and (2) whether environmental factors moderate the impact of predisposition on youth development.

Methods: Data are from the Midwest Longitudinal Study of Asian American Families project, a three-way longitudinal survey of Filipino American (FA) and Korean American (KA) families, collected in 2014 from 378 FA and 408 KA youth. Retention rates were 77% at Wave 2 in 2016 (N=604) and 82% of Wave 1 at Wave 3 in 2018 (N=641). Stepwise mixed-effects regression models examined the impact of (1) the three predispositions and an array of environmental variables on antisocial behaviors (minor assault, felony assault, and delinquency) and mental distress (depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts). The environmental variables include familial context (parental acceptance and parent-child conflict), peers (peer relations), and socio-political climate (racial discrimination) and (2) two-way interactions between predispositions and each environmental factor.

Results: Daring and negative emotionality predicted more antisocial behaviors for both ethnic groups. Prosociality predicted fewer rates of felony assault among FA youth and fewer reports of delinquency among KA youth. Negative emotionality predicted more mental distress for both ethnic groups. Daring predicted fewer depressive symptoms among KA youth. The two-way interaction models showed that the negative effect of negative emotionality on depressive symptoms was intensified by environmental risk factors such as parent-child conflict and racial discrimination (only among KA youth), but alleviated by protective factors such as parental acceptance and positive peer relationships. We also found that the harmful effect of negative emotionality on minor assault was exacerbated by positive peer relations among KA youth.

Conclusions/Implications: The study demonstrates that environmental risks vs. protection can moderate the impact of predisposition, e.g., negative emotionality, demonstrating that even though predispositions may not be malleable, environments can alter their effects. In particular, we found that positive peer relationships may serve as a protective factor for mental health, but as a risk factor for minor assault in the relations between negative emotionality and youth outcomes. This is a novel finding that illustrates a varying function of peer relations on distinct dimensions of youth problems. These findings provide the points of interventions to reduce AA youth externalizing and internalizing problems.