What is Emotion Work?

Introduction

Emotion work is understood as the art of trying to change in degree or quality an emotion or feeling.

Emotion work may be defined as the management of one’s own feelings, or work done in an effort to maintain a relationship; there is dispute as to whether emotion work is only work done regulating one’s own emotion, or extends to performing the emotional work for others.

Not to be confused with Emotional Labour and refer to Emotional Self-Regulation.

Hochschild

Arlie Russell Hochschild, who introduced the term in 1979, distinguished emotion work – unpaid emotional work that a person undertakes in private life – from emotional labour: emotional work done in a paid work setting. Emotion work has use value and occurs in situations in which people choose to regulate their emotions for their own non-compensated benefit (e.g., in their interactions with family and friends). By contrast, emotional labour has exchange value because it is traded and performed for a wage.

In a later development, Hochschild distinguished between two broad types of emotion work, and among three techniques of emotion work. The two broad types involve evocation and suppression of emotion, while the three techniques of emotion work that Hochschild describes are cognitive, bodily and expressive.

However, the concept (if not the term) has been traced back as far as Aristotle: as Aristotle saw, the problem is not with emotionality, but with the appropriateness of emotion and its expression.

Examples

Examples of emotion work include showing affection, apologizing after an argument, bringing up problems that need to be addressed in an intimate relationship or any kind of interpersonal relationship, and making sure the household runs smoothly.

Emotion work also involves the orientation of self/others to accord with accepted norms of emotional expression: emotion work is often performed by family members and friends, who put pressure on individuals to conform to emotional norms. Arguably, then, an individual’s ultimate obeisance and/or resistance to aspects of emotion regimes are made visible in their emotion work.

Cultural norms often imply that emotion work is reserved for females. There is certainly evidence to the effect that the emotional management that women and men do is asymmetric; and that in general, women come into a marriage groomed for the role of emotional manager.

Criticism

The social theorist Victor Jeleniewski Seidler argues that women’s emotion work is merely another demonstration of false consciousness under patriarchy, and that emotion work, as a concept, has been adopted, adapted or criticised to such an extent that it is in danger of becoming a “catch-all-cliché”.

More broadly, the concept of emotion work has itself been criticized as a wide over-simplification of mental processes such as repression and denial which continually occur in everyday life.

Literary Analogues

Rousseau in The New Heloise suggests that the attempt to master instrumentally one’s affective life always results in a weakening and eventually the fragmentation of one’s identity, even if the emotion work is performed at the demand of ethical principles.

What is Emotional Labour?

Introduction

Emotional labour is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfil the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and managers.

Not to be confused with Emotion Work and refer to Affective Labour.

Roles that have been identified as requiring emotional labour include those involved in public administration, espionage, law, caring for children, medical care, social work; roles in hospitality, and jobs in the media. As particular economies move from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, more workers in a variety of occupational fields are expected to manage their emotions according to employer demands when compared to sixty years ago.

Usage of the term has also been extended to refer to unpaid work that is expected interpersonally, such as taking care of organising holiday events or helping a friend solve their problems.

Definition

The sociologist Arlie Hochschild provides the first definition of emotional labour, which is displaying certain emotions to meet the requirements of a job. The related term emotion work (also called “emotion management”) refers to displaying certain emotions for personal purposes, such as within the private sphere of one’s home or interactions with family and friends. Hochschild identified three emotion regulation strategies:

StrategyDescription
CognitiveWithin cognitive emotion work, one attempts to change images, ideas, or thoughts in hopes of changing the feelings associated with them. For example, one may associate a family picture with feeling happy and think about said picture whenever attempting to feel happy.
BodilyWithin bodily emotion work, one attempts to change physical symptoms in order to create a desired emotion. For example, one may attempt deep breathing in order to reduce anger.
ExpressiveWithin expressive emotion work, one attempts to change expressive gestures to change inner feelings, such as smiling when trying to feel happy.

While emotion work happens within the private sphere, emotional labour is emotion management within the workplace according to employer expectations. Jobs involving emotional labour are defined as those that:

  • Require face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with the public.
  • Require the worker to produce an emotional state in another person.
  • Allow the employer, through training and supervision, to exercise a degree of control over the emotional activities of employees.

Hochschild (1983) argues that within this commodification process, service workers are estranged from their own feelings in the workplace.

Alternative Usage

The term has been applied in modern contexts to refer to household tasks, specifically unpaid labour that is often expected of women, e.g. planning celebrations or having to remind their partner of chores. The term can also refer to informal counselling, such as providing advice to a friend or helping someone through a breakup. When Hochschild was interviewed about this shifting usage, she expressed that it made the concept blurrier and was sometimes being applied to things that were simply just labour, although how carrying out this labour made a person feel could make it emotional labour as well.

This modern use of the term had originally been introduced by non-professionals of the field and has therefore received criticism by medical and psychological professionals.

Determinants

DeterminantDescription
Societal, Occupational, and Organisational NormsFor example, empirical evidence indicates that in typically “busy” stores there is more legitimacy to express negative emotions than there is in typically “slow” stores, in which employees are expected to behave in accordance with the display rules. Hence, the emotional culture to which one belongs influences the employee’s commitment to those rules.
Dispositional Traits and Inner Feeling on the JobSuch as employees’ emotional expressiveness, which refers to the capability to use facial expressions, voice, gestures, and body movements to transmit emotions; or employees’ level of career identity (the importance of the career role to self-identity), which allows them to express the organisationally-desired emotions more easily (because there is less discrepancy between expressed behaviour and emotional experience when engaged in their work).
Supervisory Regulation of Display RulesSupervisors are likely to be important definers of display rules at the job level, given their direct influence on workers’ beliefs about high-performance expectations. Moreover, supervisors’ impressions of the need to suppress negative emotions on the job influence the employees’ impressions of that display rule.


Surface and deep acting foundational text divided emotional labour into two components:

  • Surface acting: Occurs when employees display the emotions required for a job without changing how they actually feel.
  • Deep acting: Is an effortful process through which employees change their internal feelings to align with organisational expectations, producing more natural and genuine emotional displays.

Although the underlying processes differ, the objective of both is typically to show positive emotions, which are presumed to impact the feelings of customers and bottom-line outcomes (e.g. sales, positive recommendations, and repeat business). However, research generally has shown surface acting is more harmful to employee health. Without a consideration of ethical values, the consequences of emotional work on employees can easily become negative. Business ethics can be used as a guide for employees on how to present feelings that are consistent with ethical values, and can show them how to regulate their feelings more easily and comfortably while working.

Careers

In the past, emotional labour demands and display rules were viewed as a characteristic of particular occupations, such as restaurant workers, cashiers, hospital workers, bill collectors, counsellors, secretaries, and nurses. However, display rules have been conceptualised not only as role requirements of particular occupational groups, but also as interpersonal job demands, which are shared by many kinds of occupations.

Bill Collectors

In 1991, Sutton did an in-depth qualitative study into bill collectors at a collection agency. He found that unlike the other jobs described here where employees need to act cheerful and concerned, bill collectors are selected and socialised to show irritation to most debtors. Specifically, the collection agency hired agents who seemed to be easily aroused. The newly hired agents were then trained on when and how to show varying emotions to different types of debtors. As they worked at the collection agency, they were closely monitored by their supervisors to make sure that they frequently conveyed urgency to debtors.

Bill collectors’ emotional labour consists of not letting angry and hostile debtors make them angry and to not feel guilty about pressuring friendly debtors for money. They coped with angry debtors by publicly showing their anger or making jokes when they got off the phone. They minimised the guilt they felt by staying emotionally detached from the debtors.

Childcare Workers

The skills involved in childcare are often viewed as innate to women, making the components of childcare invisible. However, a number of scholars have not only studied the difficulty and skill required for childcare, but also suggested that the emotional labour of childcare is unique and needs to be studied differently. Performing emotional labour requires the development of emotional capital, and that can only be developed through experience and reflection. Through semi-structured interviews, Edwards (2016) found that there were two components of emotional labour in childcare in addition to Hochschild’s original two: emotional consonance and suppression. Edwards (2016) defined suppression as hiding emotion and emotional consonance as naturally experiencing the same emotion that one is expected to feel for the job.

Food-Industry Workers

Wait Staff

In her 1991 study of waitresses in Philadelphia, Paules examines how these workers assert control and protect their self identity during interactions with customers. In restaurant work, Paules argues, workers’ subordination to customers is reinforced through “cultural symbols that originate from deeply rooted assumptions about service work.” Because the waitresses were not strictly regulated by their employers, waitresses’ interactions with customers were controlled by the waitresses themselves. Although they are stigmatised by the stereotypes and assumptions of servitude surrounding restaurant work, the waitresses studied were not negatively affected by their interactions with customers. To the contrary, they viewed their ability to manage their emotions as a valuable skill that could be used to gain control over customers. Thus, the Philadelphia waitresses took advantage of the lack of employer-regulated emotional labour in order to avoid the potentially negative consequences of emotional labour.

Though Paules highlights the positive consequences of emotional labour for a specific population of waitresses, other scholars have also found negative consequences of emotional labour within the waitressing industry. Through eighteen months of participant observation research, Bayard De Volo (2003) found that casino waitresses are highly monitored and monetarily bribed to perform emotional labour in the workplace. Specifically, Bayard De Volo (2003) argues that through a sexualized environment and a generous tipping system, both casino owners and customers control waitresses’ behaviour and appearance for their own benefit and pleasure. Even though the waitresses have their own forms of individual and collective resistance mechanisms, intense and consistent monitoring of their actions by casino management makes it difficult to change the power dynamics of the casino workplace.

Fast-Food Employees

By using participant observation and interviews, Leidner (1993) examines how employers in fast food restaurants regulate workers’ interactions with customers. According to Leidner (1993), employers attempt to regulate workers’ interactions with customers only under certain conditions. Specifically, when employers attempt to regulate worker-customer interactions, employers believe that “the quality of the interaction is important to the success of the enterprise”, that workers are “unable or unwilling to conduct the interactions appropriately on their own”, and that the “tasks themselves are not too complex or context-dependent.” According to Leidner (1993), regulating employee interactions with customers involves standardizing workers’ personal interactions with customers. At the McDonald’s fast food restaurants in Leidner’s (1993) study, these interactions are strictly scripted, and workers’ compliance with the scripts and regulations are closely monitored.

Along with examining employers’ attempts to regulate employee-customer interactions, Leidner (1993) examines how fast-food workers’ respond to these regulations. According to Leidner (1993), meeting employers’ expectations requires workers to engage in some form of emotional labour. For example, McDonald’s workers are expected to greet customers with a smile and friendly attitude independent of their own mood or temperament at the time. Leidner (1993) suggests that rigid compliance with these expectations is at least potentially damaging to workers’ sense of self and identity. However, Leidner (1993) did not see the negative consequences of emotional labour in the workers she studied. Instead, McDonald’s workers attempted to individualise their responses to customers in small ways. Specifically, they used humour or exaggeration to demonstrate their rebellion against the strict regulation of their employee-customer interactions.

Physicians

According to Larson and Yao (2005), empathy should characterize physicians’ interactions with their patients because, despite advancement in medical technology, the interpersonal relationship between physicians and patients remains essential to quality healthcare. Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians consider empathy a form of emotional labour. Specifically, according to Larson and Yao (2005), physicians engage in emotional labour through deep acting by feeling sincere empathy before, during, and after interactions with patients. On the other hand, Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians engage in surface acting when they fake empathic behaviours toward the patient. Although Larson and Yao (2005) argue that deep acting is preferred, physicians may rely on surface acting when sincere empathy for patients is impossible. Overall, Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians are more effective and enjoy more professional satisfaction when they engage in empathy through deep acting due to emotional labour.

Police Work

According to Martin (1999), police work involves substantial amounts of emotional labour by officers, who must control their own facial and bodily displays of emotion in the presence of other officers and citizens. Although policing is often viewed as stereotypically masculine work that focuses on fighting crime, policing also requires officers to maintain order and provide a variety of interpersonal services. For example, police must have a commanding presence that allows them to act decisively and maintain control in unpredictable situations while having the ability to actively listen and talk to citizens. According to Martin (1999), a police officer who displays too much anger, sympathy, or other emotion while dealing with danger on the job will be viewed by other officers as someone unable to withstand the pressures of police work, due to the sexist views of many police officers. While being able to balance this self-management of emotions in front of other officers, police must also assertively restore order and use effective interpersonal skills to gain citizen trust and compliance. Ultimately, the ability of police officers to effectively engage in emotional labour affects how other officers and citizens view them.

Public Administration

Many scholars argue that the amount of emotional work required between all levels of government is greatest on the local level. It is at the level of cities and counties that the responsibility lies for day to day emergency preparedness, firefighters, law enforcement, public education, public health, and family and children’s services. Citizens in a community expect the same level of satisfaction from their government, as they receive in a customer service-oriented job. This takes a considerate amount of work for both employees and employers in the field of public administration. There are two comparisons that represent emotional labour within public administration, “Rational Work versus Emotion Work”, and “Emotional Labour versus Emotional Intelligence.”

Performance

Many scholars argue that when public administrators perform emotional labour, they are dealing with significantly more sensitive situations than employees in the service industry. The reason for this is because they are on the front lines of the government, and are expected by citizens to serve them quickly and efficiently. When confronted by a citizen or a co-worker, public administrators use emotional sensing to size up the emotional state of the citizen in need. Workers then take stock of their own emotional state in order to make sure that the emotion they are expressing is appropriate to their roles. Simultaneously, they have to determine how to act in order to elicit the desired response from the citizen as well as from co-workers. Public Administrators perform emotional labour through five different strategies: Psychological First Aid, Compartments and Closets, Crazy Calm, Humour, and Common Sense.

Definition: Rational Work vs. Emotion Work

According to Mary Guy, Public administration does not only focus on the business side of administration but on the personal side as well. It is not just about collecting the water bill or land ordinances to construct a new property, it is also about the quality of life and sense of community that is allotted to individuals by their city officials. Rational work is the ability to think cognitively and analytically, while emotional work means to think more practically and with more reason.

Definition: Intelligence vs. Emotional Intelligence

Knowing how to suppress and manage one’s own feelings is known as emotional intelligence. The ability to control one’s emotions and to be able to do this at a high level guarantees one’s own ability to serve those in need. Emotional intelligence is performed while performing emotional labour, and without one the other can not be there.

Gender

Macdonald and Sirianni (1996) use the term “emotional proletariat” to describe service jobs in which “workers exercise emotional labour wherein they are required to display friendliness and deference to customers.” Because of deference, these occupations tend to be stereotyped as female jobs, independent of the actual number of women working the job. According to Macdonald and Sirianni (1996), because deference is a characteristic demanded of all those in disadvantaged structural positions, especially women, when deference is made a job requirement, women are likely to be overrepresented in these jobs. Macdonald and Sirianni (1996) claim that “[i]n no other area of wage labour are the personal characteristics of the workers so strongly associated with the nature of the work.” Thus, according to Macdonald and Sirianna (1996), although all workers employed within the service economy may have a difficult time maintaining their dignity and self-identity due to the demands of emotional labour, such an issue may be especially problematic for women workers.

Emotional labour also affects women by perpetuating occupational segregation and the gender wage gap. Job segregation, which is the systematic tendency for men and women to work in different occupations, is often cited as the reason why women lack equal pay when compared to men. According to Guy and Newman (2004), occupational segregation and ultimately the gender wage gap can at least be partially attributed to emotional labour. Specifically, work-related tasks that require emotional work thought to be natural for women, such as caring and empathizing are requirements of many female-dominated occupations. However, according to Guy and Newman (2004), these feminized work tasks are not a part of formal job descriptions and performance evaluations: “Excluded from job descriptions and performance evaluations, the work is invisible and uncompensated. Public service relies heavily on such skills, yet civil service systems, which are designed on the assumptions of a bygone era, fail to acknowledge and compensate emotional labour.” According to Guy and Newman (2004), women working in positions that require emotional labour in addition to regular work are not compensated for this additional labour because of the sexist notion that the additional labour is to be expected of them by the fact of being a woman.

Implications

Positive affective display in service interactions, such as smiling and conveying friendliness, are positively associated with customer positive feelings, and important outcomes, such as intention to return, intention to recommend a store to others, and perception of overall service quality. There is evidence that emotional labour may lead to employees’ emotional exhaustion and burnout over time, and may also reduce employees’ job satisfaction. That is, higher degree of using emotion regulation on the job is related to higher levels of employees’ emotional exhaustion, and lower levels of employees’ job satisfaction.

There is empirical evidence that higher levels of emotional labour demands are not uniformly rewarded with higher wages. Rather, the reward is dependent on the level of general cognitive demands required by the job. That is, occupations with high cognitive demands evidence wage returns with increasing emotional labour demands; whereas occupations low in cognitive demands evidence a wage “penalty” with increasing emotional labour demands. Additionally, innovations that increase employee empowerment – such as conversion into worker cooperatives, co-managing schemes, or flattened workplace structures – have been found to increase workers’ levels of emotional labour as they take on more workplace responsibilities.

Coping Skills

Coping occurs in response to psychological stress – usually triggered by changes – in an effort to maintain mental health and emotional well-being. Life stressors are often described as negative events (loss of a job). However, positive changes in life (a new job) can also constitute life stressors, thus requiring the use of coping skills to adapt. Coping strategies are the behaviours, thoughts, and emotions that you use to adjust to the changes that occur in your life. The use of coping skills will help a person better themselves in the work place and perform to the best of their ability to achieve success. There are many ways to cope and adapt to changes. Some ways include: sharing emotions with peers, having a healthy social life outside of work, being humorous, and adjusting expectations of self and work. These coping skills will help turn negative emotion to positive and allow for more focus on the public in contrast to oneself.

What is Emotional Self-Regulation?

Introduction

Emotional self-regulation or emotion regulation is the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed.

Refer to Emotional Dysregulation.

It can also be defined as extrinsic and intrinsic processes responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions. Emotional self-regulation belongs to the broader set of emotion regulation processes, which includes both the regulation of one’s own feelings and the regulation of other people’s feelings.

Emotion regulation is a complex process that involves initiating, inhibiting, or modulating one’s state or behaviour in a given situation – for example, the subjective experience (feelings), cognitive responses (thoughts), emotion-related physiological responses (for example heart rate or hormonal activity), and emotion-related behaviour (bodily actions or expressions). Functionally, emotion regulation can also refer to processes such as the tendency to focus one’s attention to a task and the ability to suppress inappropriate behaviour under instruction. Emotion regulation is a highly significant function in human life.

Every day, people are continually exposed to a wide variety of potentially arousing stimuli. Inappropriate, extreme or unchecked emotional reactions to such stimuli could impede functional fit within society; therefore, people must engage in some form of emotion regulation almost all of the time. Generally speaking, emotion dysregulation has been defined as difficulties in controlling the influence of emotional arousal on the organisation and quality of thoughts, actions, and interactions. Individuals who are emotionally dysregulated exhibit patterns of responding in which there is a mismatch between their goals, responses, and/or modes of expression, and the demands of the social environment. For example, there is a significant association between emotion dysregulation and symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating pathology, and substance abuse. Higher levels of emotion regulation are likely to be related to both high levels of social competence and the expression of socially appropriate emotions.

Theory

Process Model

The process model of emotion regulation is based upon the modal model of emotion. The modal model of emotion suggests that the emotion generation process occurs in a particular sequence over time. This sequence occurs as follows:

  1. Situation: the sequence begins with a situation (real or imagined) that is emotionally relevant.
  2. Attention: attention is directed towards the emotional situation.
  3. Appraisal: the emotional situation is evaluated and interpreted.
  4. Response: an emotional response is generated, giving rise to loosely coordinated changes in experiential, behavioural, and physiological response systems.

Because an emotional response (4.) can cause changes to a situation (1.), this model involves a feedback loop from (4.) Response to (1.) Situation. This feedback loop suggests that the emotion generation process can occur recursively, is ongoing, and dynamic.

The process model contends that each of these four points in the emotion generation process can be subjected to regulation. From this conceptualisation, the process model posits five different families of emotion regulation that correspond to the regulation of a particular point in the emotion generation process. They occur in the following order:

  1. Situation selection.
  2. Situation modification.
  3. Attentional deployment.
  4. Cognitive change.
  5. Response modulation.

The process model also divides these emotion regulation strategies into two categories:

  • Antecedent-focused strategies (i.e. situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, and cognitive change) occur before an emotional response is fully generated.
  • Response-focused strategies (i.e. response modulation) occur after an emotional response is fully generated.

Strategies

Situation Selection

Situation selection involves choosing to avoid or approach an emotionally relevant situation. If a person selects to avoid or disengage from an emotionally relevant situation, he or she is decreasing the likelihood of experiencing an emotion. Alternatively, if a person selects to approach or engage with an emotionally relevant situation, he or she is increasing the likelihood of experiencing an emotion.

Typical examples of situation selection may be seen interpersonally, such as when a parent removes his or her child from an emotionally unpleasant situation. Use of situation selection may also be seen in psychopathology. For example, avoidance of social situations to regulate emotions is particularly pronounced for those with social anxiety disorder and avoidant personality disorder.

Effective situation selection is not always an easy task. For instance, humans display difficulties predicting their emotional responses to future events. Therefore, they may have trouble making accurate and appropriate decisions about which emotionally relevant situations to approach or to avoid.

Situation Modification

Situation modification involves efforts to modify a situation so as to change its emotional impact. Situation modification refers specifically to altering one’s external, physical environment. Altering one’s “internal” environment to regulate emotion is called cognitive change.

Examples of situation modification may include injecting humour into a speech to elicit laughter or extending the physical distance between oneself and another person.

Attentional Deployment

Attentional deployment involves directing one’s attention towards or away from an emotional situation.

Distraction

Distraction, an example of attentional deployment, is an early selection strategy, which involves diverting one’s attention away from an emotional stimulus and towards other content. Distraction has been shown to reduce the intensity of painful and emotional experiences, to decrease facial responding and neural activation in the amygdala associated with emotion, as well as to alleviate emotional distress. As opposed to reappraisal, individuals show a relative preference to engage in distraction when facing stimuli of high negative emotional intensity. This is because distraction easily filters out high-intensity emotional content, which would otherwise be relatively difficult to appraise and process.

Rumination

Rumination, an example of attentional deployment, is defined as the passive and repetitive focusing of one’s attention on one’s symptoms of distress and the causes and consequences of these symptoms. Rumination is generally considered a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy, as it tends to exacerbate emotional distress. It has also been implicated in a host of disorders including major depression.

Worry

Worry, an example of attentional deployment, involves directing attention to thoughts and images concerned with potentially negative events in the future. By focusing on these events, worrying serves to aid in the down-regulation of intense negative emotion and physiological activity. While worry may sometimes involve problem solving, incessant worry is generally considered maladaptive, being a common feature of anxiety disorders, particularly generalised anxiety disorder.

Thought Suppression

Thought suppression, an example of attentional deployment, involves efforts to redirect one’s attention from specific thoughts and mental images to other content so as to modify one’s emotional state. Although thought suppression may provide temporary relief from undesirable thoughts, it may ironically end up spurring the production of even more unwanted thoughts. This strategy is generally considered maladaptive, being most associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Cognitive Change

Cognitive change involves changing how one appraises a situation so as to alter its emotional meaning.

Reappraisal

Reappraisal, an example of cognitive change, is a late selection strategy, which involves a change of the meaning of an event that alters its emotional impact. It encompasses different substrategies, such as positive reappraisal (creating and focusing on a positive aspect of the stimulus), decentring (reinterpreting an event by broadening one’s perspective to see “the bigger picture”), or fictional reappraisal (adopting or emphasizing the belief that event is not real, that it is for instance “just a movie” or “just my imagination”). Reappraisal has been shown to effectively reduce physiological, subjective, and neural emotional responding. As opposed to distraction, individuals show a relative preference to engage in reappraisal when facing stimuli of low negative emotional intensity because these stimuli are relatively easy to appraise and process.

Reappraisal is generally considered to be an adaptive emotion regulation strategy. Compared to suppression (including both thought suppression and expressive suppression), which is positively correlated with many psychological disorders, reappraisal can be associated with better interpersonal outcomes, and can be positively related to well-being. However, some researchers argue that context is important when evaluating the adaptiveness of a strategy, suggesting that in some contexts reappraisal may be maladaptive. Furthermore, some research has shown reappraisal does not influence affect or physiological responses to recurrent stress.

Distancing

Distancing, an example of cognitive change, involves taking on an independent, third-person perspective when evaluating an emotional event. Distancing has been shown to be an adaptive form of self-reflection, facilitating the emotional processing of negatively valenced stimuli, reducing emotional and cardiovascular reactivity to negative stimuli, and increasing problem-solving behaviour.

Humour

Humour, an example of cognitive change, has been shown to be an effective emotion regulation strategy. Specifically, positive, good-natured humour has been shown to effectively up-regulate positive emotion and down-regulate negative emotion. On the other hand, negative, mean-spirited humour is less effective in this regard.

Response Modulation

Response modulation involves attempts to directly influence experiential, behavioural, and physiological response systems.

Expressive Suppression

Expressive suppression, an example of response modulation, involves inhibiting emotional expressions. It has been shown to effectively reduce facial expressivity, subjective feelings of positive emotion, heart rate, and sympathetic activation. However, the research findings are mixed regarding whether this strategy is effective for down-regulating negative emotion. Research has also shown that expressive suppression may have negative social consequences, correlating with reduced personal connections and greater difficulties forming relationships.

Expressive suppression is generally considered to be a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy. Compared to reappraisal, it is positively correlated with many psychological disorders, associated with worse interpersonal outcomes, is negatively related to well-being, and requires the mobilization of a relatively substantial amount of cognitive resources. However, some researchers argue that context is important when evaluating the adaptiveness of a strategy, suggesting that in some contexts suppression may be adaptive.

Drug Use

Drug use, an example of response modulation, can be used to alter emotion-associated physiological responses. For example, alcohol can produce sedative and anxiolytic effects and beta blockers can affect sympathetic activation.

Exercise

Exercise, an example of response modulation, can be used to down-regulate the physiological and experiential effects of negative emotions. Regular physical activity has also been shown to reduce emotional distress and improve emotional control.

Sleep

Sleep plays a role in emotion regulation, although stress and worry can also interfere with sleep. Studies have shown that sleep, specifically REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, down-regulates reactivity of the amygdala, a brain structure known to be involved in the processing of emotions, in response to previous emotional experiences. On the flip side, sleep deprivation is associated with greater emotional reactivity or overreaction to negative and stressful stimuli. This is a result of both increased amygdala activity and a disconnect between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, which regulates the amygdala through inhibition, together resulting in an overactive emotional brain. Due to the subsequent lack of emotional control, sleep deprivation may be associated with depression, impulsivity, and mood swings. Additionally, there is some evidence that sleep deprivation may reduce emotional reactivity to positive stimuli and events and impair emotion recognition in others.

In Psychotherapy

Emotion regulation strategies are taught, and emotion regulation problems are treated, in a variety of counselling and psychotherapy approaches, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

For example, a relevant mnemonic formulated in DBT is “ABC PLEASE”:

  • Accumulate positive experiences.
  • Build mastery by being active in activities that make one feel competent and effective to combat helplessness.
  • Cope ahead, preparing an action plan, researching, and rehearsing (with a skilled helper if necessary).
  • Physical illness treatment and prevention through checkups.
  • Low vulnerability to diseases, managed with health care professionals.
  • Eating healthy.
  • Avoiding (non-prescribed) mood-altering drugs.
  • Sleep healthy.
  • Exercise regularly.

Developmental Process

Infancy

Intrinsic emotion regulation efforts during infancy are believed to be guided primarily by innate physiological response systems. These systems usually manifest as an approach towards and an avoidance of pleasant or unpleasant stimuli. At three months, infants can engage in self-soothing behaviours like sucking and can reflexively respond to and signal feelings of distress. For instance, infants have been observed attempting to suppress anger or sadness by knitting their brow or compressing their lips. Between three and six months, basic motor functioning and attentional mechanisms begin to play a role in emotion regulation, allowing infants to more effectively approach or avoid emotionally relevant situations. Infants may also engage in self-distraction and help-seeking behaviours for regulatory purposes. At one year, infants are able to navigate their surroundings more actively and respond to emotional stimuli with greater flexibility due to improved motor skills. They also begin to appreciate their caregivers’ abilities to provide them regulatory support. For instance, infants generally have difficulties regulating fear. As a result, they often find ways to express fear in ways that attract the comfort and attention of caregivers.

Extrinsic emotion regulation efforts by caregivers, including situation selection, modification, and distraction, are particularly important for infants. The emotion regulation strategies employed by caregivers to attenuate distress or to up-regulate positive affect in infants can impact the infants’ emotional and behavioural development, teaching them particular strategies and methods of regulation. The type of attachment style between caregiver and infant can therefore play a meaningful role in the regulatory strategies infants may learn to use.

Recent evidence supports the idea that maternal singing has a positive effect on affect regulation in infants. Singing play-songs, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” or “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” have a visible affect-regulatory consequence of prolonged positive affect and even alleviation of distress. In addition to proven facilitation of social bonding, when combined with movement and/or rhythmic touch, maternal singing for affect regulation has possible applications for infants in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit) and for adult caregivers with serious personality or adjustment difficulties.

Toddler-Hood

By the end of the first year, toddlers begin to adopt new strategies to decrease negative arousal. These strategies can include rocking themselves, chewing on objects, or moving away from things that upset them. At two years, toddlers become more capable of actively employing emotion regulation strategies. They can apply certain emotion regulation tactics to influence various emotional states. Additionally, maturation of brain functioning and language and motor skills permits toddlers to manage their emotional responses and levels of arousal more effectively.

Extrinsic emotion regulation remains important to emotional development in toddlerhood. Toddlers can learn ways from their caregivers to control their emotions and behaviours. For example, caregivers help teach self-regulation methods by distracting children from unpleasant events (like a vaccination shot) or helping them understand frightening events.

Childhood

Emotion regulation knowledge becomes more substantial during childhood. For example, children aged six to ten begin to understand display rules. They come to appreciate the contexts in which certain emotional expressions are socially most appropriate and therefore ought to be regulated. For example, children may understand that upon receiving a gift they should display a smile, irrespective of their actual feelings about the gift. During childhood, there is also a trend towards the use of more cognitive emotion regulation strategies, taking the place of more basic distraction, approach, and avoidance tactics.

Regarding the development of emotion dysregulation in children, one robust finding suggests that children who are frequently exposed to negative emotion at home will be more likely to display, and have difficulties regulating, high levels of negative emotion.

Adolescence

Adolescents show a marked increase in their capacities to regulate their emotions, and emotion regulation decision making becomes more complex, depending on multiple factors. In particular, the significance of interpersonal outcomes increases for adolescents. When regulating their emotions, adolescents are therefore likely to take into account their social context. For instance, adolescents show a tendency to display more emotion if they expect a sympathetic response from their peers.

Additionally, spontaneous use of cognitive emotion regulation strategies increases during adolescence, which is evidenced both by self-report data and neural markers.

Adulthood

Social losses increase and health tends to decrease as people age. As people get older their motivation to seek emotional meaning in life through social ties tends to increase. Autonomic responsiveness decreases with age, and emotion regulation skill tends to increase.

Emotional regulation in adulthood can also be examined in terms of positive and negative affectivity. Positive and negative affectivity refers to the types of emotions felt by an individual as well as the way those emotions are expressed. With adulthood comes an increased ability to maintain both high positive affectivity and low negative affectivity “more rapidly than adolescents.” This response to life’s challenges seems to become “automatised” as people progress throughout adulthood. Thus, as individuals age, their capability of self-regulating emotions and responding to their emotions in healthy ways improves.

Additionally, emotional regulation may vary between young adults and older adults. Younger adults have been found to be more successful than older adults in practicing “cognitive reappraisal” to decrease negative internal emotions. On the other hand, older adults have been found to be more successful in the following emotional regulation areas:

  • Predicting the level of “emotional arousal” in possible situations.
  • Having a higher focus on positive information rather than negative.
  • Maintaining healthy levels of “hedonic well-being” (subjective well-being based on increased pleasure and decreased pain).

Overview of Perspectives

Neuropsychological Perspective

Affective

As people age, their affect – the way they react to emotions – changes, either positively or negatively. Studies show that positive affect increases as a person grows from adolescence to their mid 70s. Negative affect, on the other hand, decreases until the mid 70s. Studies also show that emotions differ in adulthood, particularly affect (positive or negative). Although some studies found that individuals experience less affect as they grow older, other studies have concluded that adults in their middle age experience more positive affect and less negative affect than younger adults. Positive affect was also higher for men than women while the negative affect was higher for women than it was for men and also for single people. A reason that older people – middle adulthood – might have less negative affect is because they have overcome, “the trials and vicissitudes of youth, they may increasingly experience a more pleasant balance of affect, at least up until their mid-70s”. Positive affect might rise during middle age but towards the later years of life – the 70s – it begins to decline while negative affect also does the same. This might be due to failing health, reaching the end of their lives and the death of friends and relatives.

In addition to baseline levels of positive and negative affect, studies have found individual differences in the time-course of emotional responses to stimuli. The temporal dynamics of emotion regulation, also known as affective chronometry, include two key variables in the emotional response process: rise time to peak emotional response, and recovery time to baseline levels of emotion. Studies of affective chronometry typically separate positive and negative affect into distinct categories, as previous research has shown (despite some correlation) the ability of humans to experience changes in these categories independently of one another. Affective chronometry research has been conducted on clinical populations with anxiety, mood, and personality disorders, but is also utilised as a measurement to test the effectiveness of different therapeutic techniques (including mindfulness training) on emotional dysregulation.

Neurological

The development of functional magnetic resonance imaging has allowed for the study of emotion regulation on a biological level. Specifically, research over the last decade strongly suggests that there is a neural basis. Sufficient evidence has correlated emotion regulation to particular patterns of prefrontal activation. These regions include the orbital prefrontal cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Two additional brain structures that have been found to contribute are the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex. Each of these structures are involved in various facets of emotion regulation and irregularities in one or more regions and/or interconnections among them are affiliated with failures of emotion regulation. An implication to these findings is that individual differences in prefrontal activation predict the ability to perform various tasks in aspects of emotion regulation.

Sociological

People intuitively mimic facial expressions; it is a fundamental part of healthy functioning. Similarities across cultures in regards to nonverbal communication has prompted the debate that it is in fact a universal language. It can be argued that emotion regulation plays a key role in the ability to generate the correct responses in social situations. Humans have control over facial expressions both consciously and unconsciously: an intrinsic emotion programme is generated as the result of a transaction with the world, which immediately results in an emotional response and usually a facial reaction. It is a well documented phenomenon that emotions have an effect on facial expression, but recent research has provided evidence that the opposite may also be true.

This notion would give rise to the belief that a person may not only control his emotion but in fact influence them as well. Emotion regulation focuses on providing the appropriate emotion in the appropriate circumstances. Some theories allude to the thought that each emotion serves a specific purpose in coordinating organismic needs with environmental demands. This skill, although apparent throughout all nationalities, has been shown to vary in successful application at different age groups. In experiments done comparing younger and older adults to the same unpleasant stimuli, older adults were able to regulate their emotional reactions in a way that seemed to avoid negative confrontation. These findings support the theory that with time people develop a better ability to regulate their emotions. This ability found in adults seems to better allow individuals to react in what would be considered a more appropriate manner in some social situations, permitting them to avoid adverse situations that could be seen as detrimental.

Expressive Regulation (In Solitary Conditions)

In solitary conditions, emotion regulation can include a minimisation-miniaturisation effect, in which common outward expressive patterns are replaced with toned down versions of expression. Unlike other situations, in which physical expression (and its regulation) serve a social purpose (i.e. conforming to display rules or revealing emotion to outsiders), solitary conditions require no reason for emotions to be outwardly expressed (although intense levels of emotion can bring out noticeable expression anyway). The idea behind this is that as people get older, they learn that the purpose of outward expression (to appeal to other people), is not necessary in situations in which there is no one to appeal to. As a result, the level of emotional expression can be lower in these solitary situations.

Stress

The way an individual reacts to stress can directly overlap with their ability to regulate emotion. Although the two concepts differ in a multitude of ways, “both coping [with stress] and emotion regulation involve affect modulation and appraisal processes” that are necessary for healthy relationships and self-identity.

According to Yu. V. Shcherbatykh, emotional stress in situations like school examinations can be reduced by engaging in self-regulating activities prior to the task being performed. To study the influence of self-regulation on mental and physiological processes under exam stress, Shcherbatykh conducted a test with an experimental group of 28 students (of both sexes) and a control group of 102 students (also of both sexes).

In the moments before the examination, situational stress levels were raised in both groups from what they were in quiet states. In the experimental group, participants engaged in three self-regulating techniques (concentration on respiration, general body relaxation, and the creation of a mental image of successfully passing the examination). During the examination, the anxiety levels of the experimental group were lower than that of the control group. Also, the percent of unsatisfactory marks in the experimental group was 1.7 times less than in the control group. From this data, Shcherbatykh concluded that the application of self-regulating actions before examinations helps to significantly reduce levels of emotional strain, which can help lead to better performance results.

Decision Making

Identification of our emotional self-regulating process can facilitate in the decision making process. Current literature on emotion regulation identifies that humans characteristically make efforts in controlling emotion experiences. There is then a possibility that our present state emotions can be altered by emotion regulation strategies resulting in the possibility that different regulation strategies could have different decision implications.

Effects of Low Self-Regulation

With a failure in emotion regulation, there is a rise in psychosocial and emotional dysfunctions caused by traumatic experiences due to an inability to regulate emotions. These traumatic experiences typically happen in grade school and are sometimes associated with bullying. Children who can not properly self-regulate express their volatile emotions in a variety of ways, including screaming if they don’t have their way, lashing out with their fists, throwing objects (such as chairs), or bullying other children. Such behaviours often elicit negative reactions from the social environment, which, in turn, can exacerbate or maintain the original regulation problems over time, a process termed cumulative continuity.

These children are more likely to have conflict-based relationships with their teachers and other children. This can lead to more severe problems such as an impaired ability to adjust to school and predicts school dropout many years later. Children who fail to properly self-regulate grow as teenagers with more emerging problems. Their peers begin to notice this “immaturity”, and these children are often excluded from social groups and teased and harassed by their peers. This “immaturity” certainly causes some teenagers to become social outcasts in their respective social groups, causing them to lash out in angry and potentially violent ways. Being teased or being an outcast in childhood is especially damaging because it could lead to psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety (in which dysregulated emotions play a central role), which, in turn, could lead to more peer victimisation. This is why it is recommended to foster emotional self-regulation in children as early as possible.

What is Emotional Detachment?

Introduction

In psychology, emotional detachment, also known as emotional blunting, has two meanings:

  • One is the inability to connect to others on an emotional level; and
  • The other is as a positive means of coping with anxiety.

This coping strategy, also known as emotion focused-coping, is used by avoiding certain situations that might trigger anxiety. It refers to the evasion of emotional connections. Emotional detachment may be a temporary reaction to a stressful situation, or a chronic condition such as depersonalisation-derealisation disorder. It may also be caused by certain antidepressants. Emotional blunting as reduced affect display is one of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Signs and Symptoms

Emotional detachment may not be as outwardly obvious as other psychiatric symptoms. Patients diagnosed with emotional detachment have reduced ability to express emotion, to empathise with others or to form powerful emotional connections. Patients are also at an increased risk for many anxiety and stress disorders. This can lead to difficulties in creating and maintaining personal relationships. The person may move elsewhere in their mind and appear preoccupied or “not entirely present”, or they may seem fully present but exhibit purely intellectual behaviour when emotional behaviour would be appropriate. They may have a hard time being a loving family member, or they may avoid activities, places, and people associated with past traumas. Their dissociation can lead to lack of attention and, hence, to memory problems and in extreme cases, amnesia. In some cases, they present an extreme difficulty in giving or receiving empathy which can be related to the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorder.

In children (ages 4-12 were studied), traits of aggression and antisocial behaviours were found to be correlated with emotional detachment. Researchers determined that these could be early signs of emotional detachment, suggesting parents and clinicians to evaluate children with these traits for a higher behavioural problem in order to avoid bigger problems (such as emotional detachment) in the future.

Causes

Emotional detachment and/or emotional blunting have multiple causes, as the cause can vary from person to person. Emotional detachment or emotional blunting often arises due to adverse childhood experiences, or to psychological trauma in adulthood.

Emotional blunting is often caused by antidepressants in particular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used in major depressive disorder, and often as an add-on treatment in other psychiatric disorders.

Behavioural Mechanism

Emotional detachment is a behaviour which allows a person to react calmly to highly emotional circumstances. Emotional detachment in this sense is a decision to avoid engaging emotional connections, rather than an inability or difficulty in doing so, typically for personal, social, or other reasons. In this sense it can allow people to maintain boundaries, psychic integrity and avoid undesired impact by or upon others, related to emotional demands. As such it is a deliberate mental attitude which avoids engaging the emotions of others.

This detachment does not necessarily mean avoiding empathy; rather, it allows the person to rationally choose whether or not to be overwhelmed or manipulated by such feelings. Examples where this is used in a positive sense might include emotional boundary management, where a person avoids emotional levels of engagement related to people who are in some way emotionally overly demanding, such as difficult co-workers or relatives, or is adopted to aid the person in helping others.

Emotional detachment can also be “emotional numbing”, “emotional blunting”, i.e., dissociation, depersonalisation or in its chronic form depersonalisation disorder. This type of emotional numbing or blunting is a disconnection from emotion, it is frequently used as a coping survival skill during traumatic childhood events such as abuse or severe neglect. Over time and with much use, this can become second nature when dealing with day to day stressors.

Emotional detachment may allow acts of extreme cruelty and abuse, supported by the decision to not connect empathically with the person concerned. Social ostracism, such as shunning and parental alienation, are other examples where decisions to shut out a person creates a psychological trauma for the shunned party.

What is Emotionality?

Introduction

Emotionality is the observable behavioural and physiological component of emotion. It is a measure of a person’s emotional reactivity to a stimulus.

Most of these responses can be observed by other people, while some emotional responses can only be observed by the person experiencing them. Observable responses to emotion (i.e. smiling) do not have a single meaning. A smile can be used to express happiness or anxiety, while a frown can communicate sadness or anger. Emotionality is often used by experimental psychology researchers to operationalise emotion in research studies.

Early Theories

By the late 1800s, many high-quality contributions became interested in analysing emotion because of the works of psychologists and scientists such as Wilhelm Wundt, George Stout, William McDougall, William James, and George Herbert Mead. William James preferred to focus on the physiological aspects of emotional response, although he did not disregard the perceptual or cognitive components. William McDougall thought of emotion as the articulation of a natural response built on instinct. Other psychologists reasoned that although gestures express emotion, this is not the entirety of their function. Wundt analysed that emotion portrays both expression and communication.

As Irrational

One of the oldest views of emotion is that emotion indicates inferiority. In early psychology, it was believed that passion (emotion) was a part of the soul inherited from the animals and that it must be controlled. Solomon identified that in the Romantic movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reason and emotion were discovered to be opposites.

As Physiological

Physiological responses to emotion originate in the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, and the endocrine system. Some of the responses include: heart rate, sweating, rate and depth of respiration, and electrical activity in the brain. Many researchers have attempted to find a connection between specific emotions and a corresponding pattern of physiological responses, but the results have been inconclusive.

Later Theories

The significant theories of emotion can be divided into three primary categories: physiological, neurological, and cognitive. Physiological theories imply that activity within the body can be accountable for emotions. Neurological theories suggest that activity within the brain leads to emotional responses. Lastly, cognitive theories reason that thoughts and other mental activity have a vital role in the stimulation of emotions. Common sense suggests that people first become consciously aware of their emotions and that the physiological responses follow shortly after. Theories by James-Lange, Cannon-Bard, and Schachter-Singer contradict the common-sense theory.

James-Lange

The James-Lange theory of emotion was proposed by psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange. This theory suggests that emotions occur as a result of physiological responses to outside stimuli or events. For example, this theory suggests that if someone is driving down the road and sees the headlights of another car heading toward them in their lane, their heart begins to race (a physiological response) and then they become afraid (fear being the emotion).

Cannon-Bard

The Cannon-Bard theory, which was conceptualized by Walter Cannon and Phillip Bard, suggests that emotions and their corresponding physiological responses are experienced simultaneously. Using the previous example, when someone sees the car coming toward them in their lane, their heart starts to race and they feel afraid at the same time.

Schachter-Singer

Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer proposed a theory also known as the two-factor theory of emotion, which implies emotion have two factors: physical arousal and cognitive label. This suggests that if the physiological activity occurs first, then it must cognitively be distinguished as the cause of the arousal and labelled as an emotion. Using the example of someone seeing a car coming towards them in their lane, their heart would start to race and they would identify that they must be afraid if their heart is racing, and from there they would begin to feel fear.

Gender Differences

The opposition of rational thought and emotion is believed to be paralleled by the similar opposition between male and female. A traditional view is that “men are seen as rational and women as emotional, lacking rationality.” However, in spite of these ideas, and in spite of gender differences in the prevalence of mood disorders, the empirical evidence on gender differences in emotional responding is mixed.

When engaging in social interaction, studies show that women smile significantly more than men do. It is difficult to determine the exact difference between males and females to explain this disparity. It is possible that this difference in expression of emotions is due to societal influences and conformity to gender roles. However, this may not fully explain why men smile less than women do.

The male gender role involves characteristics such as strength, expert knowledge, and a competitive nature. Smiling may be stereotypically associated with weakness. Men may feel that if they engage in this perceived weakness, it may contradict their attempts to show strength and other traits of the male gender role. Another broad explanation for the contrast in male and female gender expression is that women have reported to experience greater levels of emotional intensity than men, in both positive and negative aspects, which could naturally lead to greater emotional response. It has also been reported that men are more likely to confide in female companions, revealing their emotions and intimacy, while females are typically comfortable confiding in both genders. This suggests that men are more particular about how they express the emotions they feel, potentially relating back to gender roles.

Across Cultures

There are six universal emotions which expand across all cultures. These emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Debate exists about whether contempt should be combined with disgust. According to Ekman (1992), each of these emotions have universally corresponding facial expressions as well.

In addition to the facial expressions that are said to accompany each emotion, there is also evidence to suggest that certain autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity is associated with the three emotions of fear, anger, and disgust. Ekman theorizes that these specific emotions are associated with the universal physiological responses due to evolution. It would not be expected to observe the same physiological responses for emotions not specifically linked to survival, such as happiness or sadness.

Ekman’s theories were early challenged by James A. Russell, and have since been tested by a variety of researchers, with ambiguous results. This seems to reflect methodological problems relating to both display rules and to the components of emotion. Current thinking favours a mix of underlying universality combined with significant cultural differences in the articulation and expression of emotion. Emotions serve different functions in different cultures.

Positive

Positive emotionality is the ability to control positive mood and emotions, people with positive emotions seek for social reward. Positive emotionality can be a preventive factor in blocking out certain types of mental illness. In a study of a sample of 1,655 youth (54% girls; 7-16 years), it found that the higher their positive emotionality was, the lower their depression would be. Depression was considered by its definition of the inability to receive positive emotions or pleasure. The youth’s temperament, adaptive emotion regulation (ER) strategies, and depressive symptoms were determined through a questionnaire. The study also reported that depressive symptoms could be reduced through emotion regulation of positive mood. A study by Charles T. Taylor et al. linked being exposed to positive emotions before a surgery to less anxiety and a decrease in having symptoms after treatment.

Negative

Negative emotionality is the opposite of positive emotionality. People are unable to control their positive mood and emotions. Everyone experiences negative emotionality in different levels, there are different factors that effect each individual in a different way. Negative emotionality effects many aspects of our lives in terms of coping and the relationship that people share with one another. Neuroticism is one of the biggest factors found in negative emotionality. Someone on the higher spectrum of neuroticism is often more anxious and enjoy the feelings of their negative emotion. Some research suggests that obese children compared to children who are not obese have higher levels of negative emotionality and the ability to control emotions.

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Introduction

Emotional dysregulation is a term used in the mental health community that refers to emotional responses that are poorly modulated and do not lie within the accepted range of emotive response.

Refer to Emotional Self-Regulation.

Emotional dysregulation can be associated with an experience of early psychological trauma, brain injury, or chronic maltreatment (such as child abuse, child neglect, or institutional neglect/abuse), and associated disorders such as reactive attachment disorder. Emotional dysregulation may be present in people with psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. In such cases as borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, hypersensitivity to emotional stimuli causes a slower return to a normal emotional state. This is manifested biologically by deficits in the frontal cortices of the brain.

Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include extreme tearfulness, angry outbursts or behavioural outbursts such as destroying or throwing objects, aggression towards self or others, and threats to kill oneself. Emotional dysregulation can lead to behavioural problems and can interfere with a person’s social interactions and relationships at home, in school, or at place of employment.

Etymology

The word “dysregulation” is a neologism created by combining the prefix “dys-” to “regulation”. According to Webster’s Dictionary, dys- has various roots and is of Greek origin. With Latin and Greek roots, it is akin to Old English tō-, te- “apart” and in Sanskrit dus- “bad, difficult.” It is frequently confused with the spelling “disregulation” with the prefix “dis” meaning “the opposite of” or “absence of”.

Child psychopathology

There are links between child emotional dysregulation and later psychopathology. For instance, ADHD symptoms are associated with problems with emotional regulation, motivation, and arousal. One study found a connection between emotional dysregulation at 5 and 10 months, and parent-reported problems with anger and distress at 18 months. Low levels of emotional regulation behaviours at 5 months were also related to non-compliant behaviours at 30 months. While links have been found between emotional dysregulation and child psychopathology, the mechanisms behind how early emotional dysregulation and later psychopathology are related are not yet clear.

Symptoms

Smoking, self-harm, eating disorders, and addiction have all been associated with emotional dysregulation. Somatoform disorders may be caused by a decreased ability to regulate and experience emotions or an inability to express emotions in a positive way. Individuals who have difficulty regulating emotions are at risk for eating disorders and substance abuse as they use food or substances as a way to regulate their emotions. Emotional dysregulation is also found in people who have an increased risk of developing a mental disorder, in particularly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Early Childhood

Research has shown that failures in emotional regulation may be related to the display of acting out, externalizing disorders, or behaviour problems. When presented with challenging tasks, children who were found to have defects in emotional regulation (high-risk) spent less time attending to tasks and more time throwing tantrums or fretting than children without emotional regulation problems (low-risk). These high-risk children had difficulty with self-regulation and had difficulty complying with requests from caregivers and were more defiant. Emotional dysregulation has also been associated with childhood social withdrawal. Common signs of emotional dysregulation in early childhood include isolation, throwing things, screaming, lack of eye contact, refusing to speak, rocking, running away, crying, dissociating, high levels of anxiety, or inability to be flexible.

Internalising Behaviours

Emotional dysregulation in children can be associated with internalizing behaviours including:

  • Exhibiting emotions too intense for a situation.
  • Difficulty calming down when upset.
  • Difficulty decreasing negative emotions.
  • Being less able to calm themselves.
  • Difficulty understanding emotional experiences.
  • Becoming avoidant or aggressive when dealing with negative emotions.
  • Experiencing more negative emotions.

Externalising Behaviours

Emotional dysregulation in children can be associated with externalizing behaviours including:

  • Exhibiting more extreme emotions.
  • Difficulty identifying emotional cues.
  • Difficulty recognizing their own emotions.
  • Focusing on the negative.
  • Difficulty controlling their attention.
  • Being impulsive.
  • Difficulty decreasing their negative emotions.
  • Difficulty calming down when upset.

Protective Factors

Early experiences with caregivers can lead to differences in emotional regulation. The responsiveness of a caregiver to an infant’s signals can help an infant regulate their emotional systems. Caregiver interaction styles that overwhelm a child or that are unpredictable may undermine emotional regulation development. Effective strategies involve working with a child to support developing self-control such as modelling a desired behaviour rather than demanding it.

The richness of an environment that a child is exposed to helps the development of emotional regulation. An environment must provide appropriate levels of freedom and constraint. The environment must allow opportunities for a child to practice self-regulation. An environment with opportunities to practice social skills without over-stimulation or excessive frustration helps a child develop self-regulation skills.

Emotional Dysregulation and Substance Use

Several variables have been explored to explain the connection between emotional dysregulation and substance use in young adults, such as child maltreatment, cortisol levels, family environment, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Vilhena-Churchill and Goldstein (2014) explored the association between childhood maltreatment and emotional dysregulation. More severe childhood maltreatment was found to be associated with an increase in difficulty regulating emotion, which in turn was associated with a greater likelihood of coping by using marijuana. Kliewer et al. (2016) performed a study on the relationship between negative family emotional climate, emotional dysregulation, blunted anticipatory cortisol, and substance use in adolescents. Increased negative family emotional climate was found to be associated with high levels of emotional dysregulation, which was then associated with increased substance use. Girls were seen to have blunted anticipatory cortisol levels, which was also associated with an increase in substance use. Childhood events and family climate with emotional dysregulation are both factors seemingly linked to substance use. Prosek, Giordano, Woehler, Price, and McCullough (2018) explored the relationship between mental health and emotional regulation in collegiate illicit substance users. Illicit drug users reported higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Emotional dysregulation was more prominent in illicit drug users in the sense that they had less clarity and were less aware of their emotions when the emotions were occurring.

Treatment

While cognitive behavioural therapy is the most widely prescribed treatment for such psychiatric disorders, a commonly prescribed psychotherapeutic treatment for emotional dysregulation is dialectical behavioural therapy, a psychotherapy which promotes the use of mindfulness, a concept called dialectics, and emphasizes the importance of validation and maintaining healthy behavioural habits.

When diagnosed as being part of ADHD, norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and atomoxetine are often used.

References

Kliewer, W., Riley, T., Zaharakis, N., Borre, A., Drazdowski, T.K. & Jäggi, L. (2016) Emotion Dysregulation, Anticipatory Cortisol, and Substance Use in Urban Adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences. 99, pp.200-205. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.05.011. PMC 5082236. PMID 27795602.

Prosek, E.A., Giordano, A.L., Woehler, E.S., Price, E. & McCullough, R. (2018) Differences in Emotion Dysregulation and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety among Illicit Substance Users and Nonusers. Substance Use & Misuse. 53(11), pp.1915-1918. doi:10.1080/10826084.2018.1436563. PMID 29465278. S2CID 3411848.

Vilhena-Churchill, N. & Goldstein, A.L. (2014) Child Maltreatment and Marijuana Problems in Young Adults: Examining the Role of Motives and Emotion Dysregulation. Child Abuse & Neglect. 38(5), pp.962-972. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.10.009. PMID 24268374.

What is Affective Neuroscience?

Introduction

Affective neuroscience is the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion.

This interdisciplinary field combines neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood. The putative existence of ‘basic emotions’ and their defining attributes represents a long lasting and yet unsettled issue in the field.

The term was coined by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, at a time when cognitive neuroscience focused on non-emotional cognition, such as attention or memory.

Brain Areas

Emotions are thought to be related to activity in brain areas that direct our attention, motivate our behaviour, and choose the significance of what is going on around us. Pioneering work by Paul Broca (1878), James Papez (1937), and Paul D. MacLean (1952) suggested that emotion is related to a group of structures in the centre of the brain called the limbic system, which includes the hypothalamus, cingulate cortex, hippocampi, and other structures. Research has shown that limbic structures are directly related to emotion, but other structures have been found to be of greater emotional relevance.

The following brain structures are currently thought to be involved in emotion:

Limbic System

  • Amygdala:
    • The amygdalae are two small, round structures located anterior to the hippocampi near the temporal poles.
    • The amygdalae are involved in detecting and learning which parts of our surroundings are important and have emotional significance.
    • They are critical for the production of emotion, and may be particularly so for negative emotions, especially fear.
    • Multiple studies have shown amygdala activation when perceiving a potential threat; various circuits allow the amygdala to use related past memories to better judge the possible threat.
  • Thalamus:
    • The thalamus is involved in relaying sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, especially visual stimuli.
    • The thalamus plays an important role in regulating states of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Hypothalamus:
    • The hypothalamus is involved in producing a physical output associated with an emotion as well as in reward circuits.
  • Hippocampus:
    • The hippocampus is a structure of the medial temporal lobes that is mainly involved in memory.
    • It works to form new memories and also connects senses such as visual input, smell or sound to memories.
    • The hippocampus allows long term memories to be stored and retrieves them when necessary.
    • Memories are used within the amygdala to help evaluate stimulae.
  • Fornix:
    • The fornix is the main output pathway from the hippocampus to the mammillary bodies.
    • It has been identified as a main region in controlling spatial memory functions, episodic memory and executive functions.
  • Mammillary body:
    • Mammillary bodies are important for recollective memory.
  • Olfactory bulb:
    • The olfactory bulbs are the first cranial nerves, located on the ventral side of the frontal lobe.
    • They are involved in olfaction, the perception of odours.
  • Cingulate gyrus:
    • The cingulate gyrus is located above the corpus callosum and is usually considered to be part of the limbic system.
    • The parts of the cingulate gyrus have different functions, and are involved with affect, visceromotor control, response selection, skeletomotor control, visuospatial processing, and in memory access.
    • A part of the cingulate gyrus is the anterior cingulate cortex, which is thought to play a central role in attention and behaviourally demanding cognitive tasks.
    • It may be particularly important with regard to conscious, subjective emotional awareness.
    • This region of the brain may play an important role in the initiation of motivated behaviour.
    • The subgenual cingulate is more active during both experimentally induced sadness and during depressive episodes.

Other Brain Structures

  • Basal ganglia:
    • Basal ganglia are groups of nuclei found on either side of the thalamus.
    • Basal ganglia play an important role in motivation, action selection and reward learning.
  • Orbitofrontal cortex:
    • The orbitofrontal cortex is a major structure involved in decision making and the influence by emotion on that decision.
  • Prefrontal cortex:
    • The prefrontal cortex is the front of the brain, behind the forehead and above the eyes.
    • It appears to play a critical role in the regulation of emotion and behaviour by anticipating consequences.
    • It may play an important role in delayed gratification by maintaining emotions over time and organising behaviour toward specific goals.
  • Ventral striatum:
    • The ventral striatum is a group of subcortical structures thought to play an important role in emotion and behaviour.
    • One part of the ventral striatum called the nucleus accumbens is thought to be involved in the experience of pleasure.
    • Individuals with addictions experience increased activity in this area when they encounter the object of their addiction.
  • Insula:
    • The insular cortex is thought to play a critical role in the bodily experience of emotion, as it is connected to other brain structures that regulate the body’s autonomic functions (heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc.).
    • The insula is implicated in empathy and awareness of emotion.
  • Cerebellum:
    • A “Cerebellar Cognitive Affective Syndrome” has been described.
    • Both neuroimaging studies as well as studies following pathological cerebellar lesions (such as a stroke) demonstrate that the cerebellum has a significant role in emotional regulation.
    • Lesion studies have shown that cerebellar dysfunction can attenuate the experience of positive emotions.
    • While these same studies do not show an attenuated response to frightening stimuli, the stimuli did not recruit structures that normally would be activated (such as the amygdala).
    • Rather, alternative structures were activated, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate gyrus, and the insula.
    • This may indicate that evolutionary pressure resulted in the development of the cerebellum as a redundant fear-mediating circuit to enhance survival.
    • It may also indicate a regulatory role for the cerebellum in the neural response to rewarding stimuli, such as money, drugs of abuse, and orgasm.
  • Lateral prefrontal cortex.
  • Primary sensorimotor cortex.
  • Temporal cortex.
  • Brainstem.

Right Hemisphere

The right hemisphere has been proposed as directly involved in emotion processing. Scientific theory regarding its role produced several models of emotional functioning. C.K. Mills was an early researcher who proposed a direct link between the right hemisphere and emotion processing, having observed decreased emotion processing in patients with lesions to the right hemisphere. In the late 1980s to early 1990s neocortical structures were shown to have an involvement in emotion. These findings led to the development of the right hemisphere hypothesis and the valence hypothesis.

Right Hemisphere Hypothesis

The right hemisphere hypothesis asserts that the right hemisphere is specialized for the expression and perception of emotion. It has been linked with mental strategies that are nonverbal, synthetic, integrative, holistic, and gestaltic. The right hemisphere is more in touch with subcortical systems of autonomic arousal and attention as demonstrated in patients that have increased spatial neglect when damage affects the right brain versus the left brain. Right hemisphere pathologies have been linked with abnormal patterns of autonomic nervous system responses. These findings would help signify the strong connection of the subcortical brain regions to the right hemisphere.

Valence Hypothesis

The valence hypothesis acknowledges the right hemisphere’s role in emotion, but asserts that it is mainly focused on the processing of negative emotions whereas the left hemisphere processes positive emotions. The two hemispheres have been the subject of much debate. One version states that the right hemisphere processes negative emotion leaving positive emotion to the left brain. A second version suggests that the right hemisphere predominates in experiencing both positive and negative emotion. More recently, the frontal lobe has been the focus of research, asserting that the frontal lobes of both hemispheres are involved in emotions, while the parietal and temporal lobes are involved in the processing of emotion. Decreased right parietal lobe activity has been associated with depression and increased right parietal lobe activity with anxiety arousal. The increasing understanding of the different hemispheres has led to increasingly complicated models, all based on the original valence model.

Cognitive Neuroscience

Despite their interactions, the study of cognition until the late 1990s, excluded emotion and focused on non-emotional processes (e.g. memory, attention, perception, action, problem solving and mental imagery). The study of the neural basis of non-emotional and emotional processes emerged as two separate fields: cognitive neuroscience and affective neuroscience. Emotional and non-emotional processes often involve overlapping neural and mental mechanisms.

Cognitive Neuroscience Tasks in Affective Neuroscience Research

Emotion Go/No-Go

The emotion go/no-go task has been used to study behavioural inhibition, particularly emotional modulation of this inhibition. A derivation of the original go/no-go paradigm, this task involves a combination of affective “go cues”, where the participant must rapidly make a motor response, and affective “no-go cues,” where a response must be withheld. Because “go cues” are more common, the task measures a subject’s ability to inhibit a response under different emotional conditions.

The task is common in tests of emotion regulation, and is often paired with neuroimaging measures to localize relevant brain function in both healthy individuals and those with affective disorders. For example, go/no-go studies converge with other methodology to implicate areas of the prefrontal cortex during inhibition of emotionally valenced stimuli.

Emotional Stroop

The emotional Stroop task, an adaptation to the original Stroop, measures attentional bias to emotional stimuli. Participants must name the ink colour of presented words while ignoring the words’ meanings. In general, participants have more difficulty detaching attention from affectively valenced words, than neutral words. This interference from valenced words is measured by the response latency in naming the colour of neutral words as compared with emotional words.

This task has been often used to test selective attention to threatening and other negatively valenced stimuli, most often in relation to psychopathology. Disorder-specific attentional biases have been found for a variety of mental disorders. For example, participants with spider phobia show a bias to spider-related words but not other negatively valenced words. Similar findings have been attributed to threat words related to other anxiety disorders. However, other studies have questioned these findings. In fact, anxious participants in some studies show the Stroop interference effect for both negative and positive words, when the words are matched for emotionality. This means that the specificity effects for various disorders may be largely attributable to the semantic relation of the words to the concerns of the disorder, rather than their emotionality.

Ekman 60 Faces Task

The Ekman faces task is used to measure emotion recognition of six basic emotions. Black and white photographs of 10 actors (6 male, 4 female) are presented, with each actor displaying each emotion. Participants are usually asked to respond quickly with the name of the displayed emotion. The task is a common tool to study deficits in emotion regulation in patients with dementia, Parkinson’s, and other cognitively degenerative disorders. The task has been used to analyse recognition errors in disorders such as borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Dot Probe (Emotion)

The emotional dot-probe paradigm is a task used to assess selective visual attention to and failure to detach attention from affective stimuli. The paradigm begins with a fixation cross at the centre of a screen. An emotional stimulus and a neutral stimulus appear side by side, after which a dot appears behind either the neutral stimulus (incongruent condition) or the affective stimulus (congruent condition). Participants are asked to indicate when they see this dot, and response latency is measured. Dots that appear on the same side of the screen as the image the participant was looking at will be identified more quickly. Thus, it is possible to discern which object the participant was attending to by subtracting the reaction time to respond to congruent versus incongruent trials.

The best documented research with the dot probe paradigm involves attention to threat related stimuli, such as fearful faces, in individuals with anxiety disorders. Anxious individuals tend to respond more quickly to congruent trials, which may indicate vigilance to threat and/or failure to detach attention from threatening stimuli. A specificity effect of attention has also been noted, with individuals attending selectively to threats related to their particular disorder. For example, those with social phobia selectively attend to social threats but not physical threats. However, this specificity may be even more nuanced. Participants with obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms initially show attentional bias to compulsive threat, but this bias is attenuated in later trials due to habituation to the threat stimuli.

Fear Potentiated Startle

Fear-potentiated startle (FPS) has been utilised as a psychophysiological index of fear reaction in both animals and humans. FPS is most often assessed through the magnitude of the eyeblink startle reflex, which can be measured by electromyography. This eyeblink reflex is an automatic defensive reaction to an abrupt elicitor, making it an objective indicator of fear. Typical FPS paradigms involve bursts of noise or abrupt flashes of light transmitted while an individual attends to a set of stimuli. Startle reflexes have been shown to be modulated by emotion. For example, healthy participants tend to show enhanced startle responses while viewing negatively valenced images and attenuated startle while viewing positively valenced images, as compared with neutral images.

The startle response to a particular stimulus is greater under conditions of threat. A common example given to indicate this phenomenon is that one’s startle response to a flash of light will be greater when walking in a dangerous neighbourhood at night than it would under safer conditions. In laboratory studies, the threat of receiving shock is enough to potentiate startle, even without any actual shock.

Fear potentiated startle paradigms are often used to study fear learning and extinction in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. In fear conditioning studies, an initially neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with an aversive one, borrowing from classical conditioning. FPS studies have demonstrated that post-traumatic stress disorder patients have enhanced startle responses during both danger cues and neutral/safety cues as compared with healthy participants.

Learning

Affect plays many roles during learning. Deep, emotional attachment to a subject area allows a deeper understanding of the material and therefore, learning occurs and lasts. The emotions evoked when reading in comparison to the emotions portrayed in the content affects comprehension. Someone who is feeling sad understands a sad passage better than someone feeling happy. Therefore, a student’s emotion plays an important role during the learning process.

Emotion can be embodied or perceived from words read on a page or in a facial expression. Neuroimaging studies using fMRI have demonstrated that the same area of the brain that is activated when feeling disgust is activated when observing another’s disgust. In a traditional learning environment, the teacher’s facial expression can play a critical role in language acquisition. Showing a fearful facial expression when reading passages that contain fearful tones facilitates students learning of the meaning of certain vocabulary words and comprehension of the passage.

Models

The neurobiological basis of emotion is still disputed. The existence of basic emotions and their defining attributes represents a long lasting and yet unsettled issue in psychology. The available research suggests that the neurobiological existence of basic emotions is still tenable and heuristically seminal, pending some reformulation.

Basic Emotions

These approaches hypothesize that emotion categories (including happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust) are biologically basic. In this view, emotions are inherited, biologically based modules that cannot be separated into more basic psychological components. Models following this approach hypothesize that all mental states belonging to a single emotional category can be consistently and specifically localised to either a single brain region or a defined network of brain regions. Each basic emotion category also shares other universal characteristics: distinct facial behaviour, physiology, subjective experience and accompanying thoughts and memories.

Psychological Constructionist Approaches

This approach to emotion hypothesizes that emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, anger and disgust (and many others) are constructed mental states that occur when brain systems work together. In this view, networks of brain regions underlie psychological operations (e.g. language, attention, etc.) that interact to produce emotion, perception, and cognition. One psychological operation critical for emotion is the network of brain regions that underlie valence (feeling pleasant/unpleasant) and arousal (feeling activated and energised). Emotions emerge when neural systems underlying different psychological operations interact (not just those involved in valence and arousal), producing distributed patterns of activation across the brain. Because emotions emerge from more basic components, heterogeneity affects each emotion category; for example, a person can experience many different kinds of fear, which feel differently, and which correspond to different neural patterns in the brain.

Meta-Analyses

A meta-analysis is a statistical approach to synthesizing results across multiple studies. Included studies investigated healthy, unmedicated adults and that used subtraction analysis to examine brain areas that were more active during emotional processing than during a neutral (control) condition.

Phan et al. 2002

In the first neuroimaging meta-analysis of emotion, Phan et al. (2002) analysed the results of 55 peer reviewed studies between January 1990 and December 2000 to determine if the emotions of fear, sadness, disgust, anger, and happiness were consistently associated with activity in specific brain regions. All studies used fMRI or PET techniques to investigate higher-order mental processing of emotion (studies of low-order sensory or motor processes were excluded). The authors’ tabulated the number of studies that reported activation in specific brain regions. For each brain region, statistical chi-squared analysis was conducted. Two regions showed a statistically significant association. In the amygdala, 66% of studies inducing fear reported activity in this region, as compared to ~20% of studies inducing happiness, ~15% of studies inducing sadness (with no reported activations for anger or disgust). In the subcallosal cingulate, 46% of studies inducing sadness reported activity in this region, as compared to ~20% inducing happiness and ~20% inducing anger. This pattern of clear discriminability between emotion categories was in fact rare, with other patterns occurring in limbic regions, paralimbic regions, and uni/heteromodal regions. Brain regions implicated across discrete emotion included the basal ganglia (~60% of studies inducing happiness and ~60% of studies inducing disgust reported activity in this region) and medial prefrontal cortex (happiness ~60%, anger ~55%, sadness ~40%, disgust ~40%, and fear ~30%).

Murphy et al. 2003

Murphy, et al. 2003 analysed 106 peer reviewed studies published between January 1994 and December 2001 to examine the evidence for regional specialisation of discrete emotions (fear, disgust, anger, happiness and sadness) across a larger set of studies. Studies included in the meta-analysis measured activity in the whole brain and regions of interest (activity in individual regions of particular interest to the study). 3-D Kolmogorov-Smirnov (KS3) statistics were used to compare rough spatial distributions of 3-D activation patterns to determine if statistically significant activations were specific to particular brain regions for all emotional categories. This pattern of consistently activated, regionally specific activations was identified in four brain regions: amygdala with fear (~40% of studies), insula with disgust (~70%), globus pallidus with disgust (~70%), and lateral orbitofrontal cortex with anger (80%). Other regions showed different patterns of activation across categories. For example, both the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex showed consistent activity across emotions (happiness ~50%, sadness ~50%, anger ~ 40%, fear ~30%, and disgust ~ 20%).

Barrett et al. 2006

Barrett, et al. 2006 examined 161 studies published between 1990 and 2001. The authors compared the consistency and specificity of prior meta-analytic findings specific to each notional basic emotion. Consistent neural patterns were defined by brain regions showing increased activity for a specific emotion (relative to a neutral control condition), regardless of the method of induction used (for example, visual vs. auditory cue). Specific neural patterns were defined as separate circuits for one emotion vs. the other emotions (for example, the fear circuit must be discriminable from the anger circuit, although both may include common brain regions). In general, the results supported Phan et al. and Murphy et al., but not specificity. Consistency was determined through the comparison of chi-squared analyses that revealed whether the proportion of studies reporting activation during one emotion was significantly higher than the proportion of studies reporting activation during the other emotions. Specificity was determined through the comparison of emotion-category brain-localizations by contrasting activations in key regions that were specific to particular emotions. Increased amygdala activation during fear was the most consistently reported across induction methods (but not specific). Both meta-analyses associated the anterior cingulate cortex with sadness, although this finding was less consistent (across induction methods) and was not specific. Both meta-analyses found that disgust was associated with the basal ganglia, but these findings were neither consistent nor specific. Neither consistent nor specific activity was observed across the meta-analyses for anger or happiness. This meta-analysis introduced the concept of the basic, irreducible elements of emotional life as dimensions such as approach and avoidance.

Kober et al. 2008

Kober, et al. 2008 reviewed 162 neuroimaging studies published between 1990-2005 to determine if groups of brain regions showed consistent activation patterns while experiencing an emotion directly and (indirectly) as experienced by another. This analysis used multilevel kernel density analysis (MKDA) to examine fMRI and PET studies, a technique that prevents single studies from dominating the results (particularly if they report multiple nearby peaks) and that enables studies involving more participants to exert more influence upon the results. MKDA was used to establish a neural reference space that includes the set of regions showing consistent increases across all studies. This neural reference space was partitioned into functional groups of brain regions showing similar activation patterns by using multivariate techniques to determine co-activation patterns and then using data-reduction techniques to define the functional groupings, resulting in six groups. The authors discussed each functional group in terms of more basic psychological operations.

GroupRegionsNotes
Core LimbicLeft amygdala, hypothalamus, periaqueductal gray/thalamus regions, and amygdala/ventral striatum/ventral globus pallidus/thalamus regions.Integrative emotional centre that plays a general role in evaluating affective significance.
Lateral ParalimbicVentral anterior insula/frontal operculum/right temporal pole/ posterior orbitofrontal cortex, the anterior insula/ posterior orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral anterior insula/ temporal cortex/ orbitofrontal cortex junction, the midinsula/ dorsal putamen, and the ventral striatum /mid insula/ left hippocampus.Plays a role in motivation, contributing to the general valuation of stimuli and particularly in reward.
Medial Prefrontal CortexDorsal medial prefrontal cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, and rostral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.Plays a role in both the generation and regulation of emotion.
Cognitive/ Motor NetworkRight frontal operculum, the right interior frontal gyrus, and the pre-supplementray motor area/ left interior frontal gyrus, regions.Not specific to emotion, but instead appear to play a more general role in information processing and cognitive control.
Occipital/ Visual AssociationV8 and V4 areas of the primary visual cortex, the medial temporal lobe, and the lateral occipital cortex.
Medial PosteriorPosterior cingulate cortex and area V1 of the primary visual cortex.

The authors suggest that these regions play a joint role in visual processing and attention to emotional stimuli.

Vytal et al. 2010

Vytal, et al. 2010 examined 83 neuroimaging studies published between 1993-2008 to examine whether neuroimaging evidence supports biologically discrete, basic emotions (i.e. fear, anger, disgust, happiness, and sadness). Consistency analyses identified brain regions associated with individual emotions. Discriminability analyses identified brain regions that were differentially active under contrasting pairs of emotions. This meta-analysis examined PET or fMRI studies that reported whole brain analyses identifying significant activations for at least one of the five emotions relative to a neutral or control condition. The authors used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) to perform spatially sensitive, voxel-wise (sensitive to the spatial properties of voxels) statistical comparisons across studies. This technique allows for direct statistical comparison between activation maps associated with each discrete emotion. Thus, discriminability between the five discrete emotion categories was assessed on a more precise spatial scale than in prior meta-analyses.

Consistency was first assessed by comparing the cross-study ALE map for each emotion to ALE maps generated by random permutations. Discriminability was assessed by pair-wise contrasts of emotion maps. Consistent and discriminable activation patterns were observed for the five categories.

EmotionPeakRegions
HappinessRight superior temporal gyrus, left rostral anterior cingulate cortex.9 regional brain clusters.
SadnessLeft medial frontal gyrus.35 clusters – especially, left medial frontal gyrus, right middle temporal gyrus, and right inferior frontal gyrus.
AngerLeft inferior frontal gyrus.13 clusters – bilateral inferior frontal gyrus, and in right parahippocampal gyrus.
FearLeft amygdala.11 clusters – left amygdala and left putamen.
DisgustRight insula/right inferior frontal gyrus.16 clusters – right putamen and the left insula.

Lindquist et al. 2012

Lindquist, et al. reviewed 91 PET and fMRI studies published between January 1990 and December 2007. The studies used induction methods that elicit emotion experience or emotion perception of fear, sadness, disgust, anger, and happiness. The goal was to compare basic emotions approaches with psychological constructionist approaches. A MKDA transformed the individual peak into a neural reference space. The density analysis was then used to identify voxels with more consistent activations for a specific emotion category than all other emotions. Chi-squared analysis was used to create statistical maps that indicated whether each previously identified and consistently active region was more frequently activated in studies of each emotion category than average, regardless of activations elsewhere in the brain. Chi-squared analysis and density analysis both defined functionally consistent and selective regions (regions that showed a more consistent activity increase) for one emotion category. Thus, a selective region could present increased activations to multiple emotions, as long as the response to one emotion was relatively stronger.

A series of logistic regressions were performed to identify regions that while consistent and selective to an emotion were additionally specific to that emotion. Specificity was defined as showing increased activations for only one emotional category. Strong support for basic emotions was defined as evidence that brain areas respond to only one emotional category. Strong support for the constructionist approach was defined as evidence that psychological operations consistently occur across many brain regions and multiple emotional categories.

The results indicated that many brain regions demonstrated consistent and selective activations in the experience or perception of one emotion category. Consistent with constructionist models, however, no region demonstrated functional specificity for the emotions of fear, disgust, happiness, sadness or anger.

The authors proposed different roles for the brain regions that have traditionally been associated with only one emotion category. The authors propose that the amygdala, anterior insula, orbitofrontal cortex each contribute to “core affect,” which are basic feelings that are pleasant or unpleasant with some level of arousal.

RegionRole
AmygdalaIndicating whether external sensory information is motivationally salient, novel and/or evokes uncertainty.
Anterior InsulaRepresents core affective feelings in awareness across emotion categories, driven largely by body sensations.
Orbitofrontal CortexFunctions as a site for integrating sensory information from the body and the world to guide behaviour.

Closely related to core affect, the authors propose that the anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex play vital roles in attention. The anterior cingulate supports the use of sensory information for directing attention and motor responses during response selection while the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex supporting executive attention. In many psychological construction approaches, emotions relate an individual’s situation in the world to internal body states, referred to as “conceptualisation”. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus were consistently active in this context: regions that play an important role conceptualising are also involved in simulating previous experience (e.g. knowledge, memory). Language is also central to conceptualising, and regions that support language, including ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, were also consistently active across studies of emotion experience and perception.

Book: The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook

Book Title:

The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance.

Author(s): Matthew McKay and Jeffrey C. Wood.

Year: 2019.

Edition: Second (2nd).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

A clear and effective approach to learning evidence-based DBT skills-now in a fully revised and updated second edition.

Do you have trouble managing your emotions? First developed by Marsha M. Linehan for treating borderline personality disorder, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has proven effective as treatment for a range of other mental health problems, and can greatly improve your ability to handle distress without losing control and acting destructively.

However, to make use of these techniques, you need to build skills in four key areas: distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, a collaborative effort from three esteemed authors, offers
evidence-based, step-by-step exercises for learning these concepts and putting them to work for real and lasting change. Start by working on the introductory exercises and, after making progress, move on to the advanced-skills chapters.
Whether you’re a mental health professional or a general reader, you’ll benefit from this clear and practical guide to better managing your emotions.

This fully revised and updated second edition also includes new chapters on cognitive rehearsal, distress tolerance, and self-compassion. Once you have completed the exercises in this book and are ready to move on to the next level, check out the authors’ new book, The New Happiness Workbook.

Book: Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder

Book Title:

Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Disorders).

Author(s): Marsha M. Linehan.

Year: 1993.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Guildford Press.

Type(s): Hardcover and Kindle.

Synopsis:

For the average clinician, individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often represent the most challenging, seemingly insoluble cases. This volume is the authoritative presentation of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), Marsha M. Linehan’s comprehensive, integrated approach to treating individuals with BPD. DBT was the first psychotherapy shown in controlled trials to be effective with BPD. It has since been adapted and tested for a wide range of other difficult-to-treat disorders involving emotion dysregulation. While focusing on BPD, this book is essential reading for clinicians delivering DBT to any clients with complex, multiple problems.

Companion volumes: The latest developments in DBT skills training, together with essential materials for teaching the full range of mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance skills, are presented in Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, and DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition. Also available: Linehan’s instructive skills training videos for clients – Crisis Survival Skills: Part One, Crisis Survival Skills: Part Two, From Suffering to Freedom, This One Moment, and Opposite Action.

Book: Pocket Therapy for Emotional Balance

Book Title:

Pocket Therapy for Emotional Balance: Quick DBT Skills to Manage Intense Emotions (New Harbinger Pocket Therapy).

Author(s): Matthew McKay (PhD), Jeffrey C. Wood (PSyd), and Jeffrey Brantley (MD).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

In Pocket Therapy for Emotional Balance, three clinical psychologists and authors of The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook offer quick, evidence-based tips and tools for managing intense emotions in the moment. Using this handy, take-anywhere guide, readers will find freedom from overwhelming thoughts and feelings, find a sense of calm, and live a more balanced life.

Bite-sized, evidence based tips and tools for managing intense emotions in the moment-from the authors of The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook! Sometimes emotions can feel like a big, powerful tidal wave that will sweep you away. And the more you try to suppress or put a lid on these emotions, the more overwhelming they get. So, how can you feel better when difficult emotions threaten to wash over you?

In this take-anywhere pocket guide, clinical psychologists and authors Matt McKay, Jeffrey Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley offer quick and simple strategies based in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) to help you take charge of your emotions and start living the life you want. Using this handy little book, you’ll find freedom from overwhelming thoughts and feelings, discover a sense of lasting calm, improve your relationships, and feel more at peace with the world and yourself. If you are looking for small, easy ways to manage your emotions on the go, put this compact guide in your coat pocket, your purse, on your nightstand, or anywhere for quick and soothing relief.