The functions of verbal and nonverbal emotional disclosures to friends during early adolescence: A focus on closeness, friendship satisfaction, and internalizing symptoms
Spencer, Sarah Van Cleve
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The social functions theory of emotion posits that the expression of emotion to others can help to build social bonds and promote psychological well-being. Recent applications have revealed that verbal emotional disclosure to close friends during early adolescence is positively associated with psychosocial adjustment. But, emotions can be expressed verbally and nonverbally (e.g., facial expressions), and to date, no researchers have considered the unique importance of nonverbal emotional disclosures to friends during this developmental period. The current study examined the unique linear and nonlinear associations between intentional verbal and nonverbal emotional disclosures to close friends and relationship (friendship closeness, satisfaction) and individual (anxiety/depression) adjustment in 182 young adolescents ( M age = 13.67). I also examined whether the associations between emotional disclosure and adjustment was mediated by perceived friend responsiveness, a test of the Interpersonal Process Model. Sex differences were examined in all analyses. Results revealed that verbal emotional disclosure to friends is uniquely and positively associated with relationship adjustment and negatively with anxiety/depression. In contrast, nonverbal disclosures of emotion were found to exacerbate internalizing symptoms; also, results indicated that linear and curvilinear associations between nonverbal disclosures of emotion and relationship adjustment depended on the valance of the emotion being expressed and sex. Results further suggested that perceived friend responsiveness mediates the associations between verbal emotional disclosure and adjustment but not between nonverbal emotional disclosure and adjustment. Findings from the present study offer new evidence that verbal and nonverbal emotional disclosures to friends during early adolescence are distinct constructs with unique social and psychological functions.