What is Expressive Suppression?

Introduction

Expressive suppression is the intentional reduction of facial expression of an emotion, and it is a component of emotion regulation.

Expressive suppression is a concept:

“based on individuals’ emotion knowledge, which includes knowledge about the causes of emotion, about their bodily sensations and expressive behavior, and about the possible means of modifying them”.

In other words, expressive suppression signifies the act of masking facial giveaways (refer to facial expression) in order to hide an underlying emotional state (refer to affect). In fact, simply suppressing the facial expressions that accompany certain emotions can affect “the individual’s experience of emotion”. According to a 1974 study conducted by Kopel and Arkowitz, repressing the facial expressions associated with pain actually decreased the experience of pain in participants. However, “there is little evidence that the suppression of spontaneous emotional expression leads to decrease in emotional experience and physiological arousal apart from the manipulation of the pain expressions”.

According to Gross and Levenson’s 1993 study in which subjects watched a disgusting film while suppressing or not suppressing their expressions, suppression produced increased blinking. However, suppression also produced a decreased heart rate in participants and self-reports did not reflect that suppression had an effect on disgust experience. While it is unclear from Gross and Levenson’s study whether suppression successfully diminishes the experience of emotions, it can be concluded that expressive suppression does not completely inhibit all facial movements and expressions (e.g. blinking of the eyes). Niedenthal argues that expressive suppression works to decrease the experience of positive emotions whereas it does not successfully decrease the experience of negative emotions. If the suppression of facial expressions does not diminish negative emotions that one experiences, why is it such a common practice?

It may be that expressive suppression serves more of a social purpose than it serves a purpose for the individual. In a study done by Kleck and colleagues in 1976, participants were told to suppress facial expressions of pain during the reception of electric shocks. Specifically, “in one study the subjects were induced to exaggerate or minimize their facial expressions in order to fool a supposed audience”.  This idea of covering up an internal experience in front of observers could be the true reason that expressive suppression is utilised in social situations. “In everyday life, suppression may serve to conform individuals’ outward appearance to emotional norms in a given situation, and to facilitate social interaction”.  In this way, hiding negative emotions may cause for more successful social relationships by preventing conflict, stifling the spread of negative emotions, and protecting an individual from negative judgments made by others.

Component

Expressive suppression is a response-focused emotion regulation strategy. This strategy involves an individual voluntarily suppressing their outward emotional expressions. Expressive suppression has a direct relationship to our emotional experiences and is significant in communication studies. Individuals who suppress their emotions are seeking to control their actions and are seeking to maintain a positive social image. Expressive suppression involves reducing facial expression and controlling positive and negative feelings of emotion. This type of emotion regulation strategy can have negative emotional and psychological effects on individuals. Emotional suppression reduces expressive behaviour significantly. As many researchers have concluded, though emotional suppression decreases outward expressive emotions, it does not decrease our negative feelings and emotional arousal.

Different forms of emotion regulation affect our response trajectory of emotions. We target situations for regulation by the process of selecting the situations we are exposed to or by modifying the situation we are in. Emotion suppression relates to the behavioural component of emotion. Expressive suppression has physiological influences such as decreasing heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and increasing sympathetic activation.

Expressive suppression requires self-control. We use self-control when handling our emotion-based expressions in public. It is believed that the use of expressive suppression has a negative connection with a human’s well-being. Expressive suppression has been found to occur late, after the peripheral physiological response or emotion process is triggered. Künh et al. (2011) compare this strategy to vetoing actions. This type of emotion regulation strategy is considered a method which strongly resists various urges and voluntarily inhibits actions. Kühn et al. (2011) also posited the notion that expression suppression may be internally controlled and that emotional responses are targeted by suppression efforts.

One of the characteristics of expressive suppression, a response-based strategy, is that it occurs after an activated response. Larsen et al. (2013) claim expressive suppression to be one of the less effective emotion regulation strategies. These researchers label expressive suppression as an inhibition to the behavioural display of emotion.

Externalisers vs. Internalisers

Regarding emotion regulation, specifically expressive suppression, there are two groups that can be characterised by their different response patterns. These two groups are labelled externalisers and internalisers. Internalisers generally “show more skin conductance deflections and greater heart rate acceleration than do externalizers” when attempting to suppress facial expressions during a potentially emotional event.  This signifies that internalisers are able to successfully employ expressive suppression while experiencing physiological arousal. However, when asked to describe their feelings, internalisers do not usually speak about themselves or specific feelings, which could be a sign of alexithymia. Alexithymia is defined as the inability to verbally explain an emotional experience or a feeling. Peter Sifneos first used this word in the realm of psychiatry in 1972 and it literally means “having no words for emotions”. Those who are able to consistently suppress their facial expressions (e.g. internalisers) may be experiencing symptoms of alexithymia. On the other hand, externalisers employ less expressive suppression in response to emotional experiences or other external stimuli and do not usually struggle with alexithymia.

Gender Differences

Men and women do not equally utilise expressive suppression. Typically, men show less facial expression and employ more expressive suppression than do women. This behaviour difference rooted in gender difference can be traced back to social norms that are taught to children at a young age. Young boys are implicitly taught that “big boys don’t cry,” which is a lesson that encourages the suppression of emotional behaviour in masculine individuals. This suppression is a result of “the punishment and consequent conditioned inhibition of all expression of a given emotion”.  If a masculine individual expresses an emotion that is undesirable and society responds by punishing that behaviour, that masculine individual will learn to suppress the socially unacceptable behaviour. On the other hand, feminine individuals do not experience the same societal pressure to the same extent to suppress their emotional expressions. Because feminine individuals are not as pressured to keep their emotions concealed, most do not feel the need to suppress them. However, there are exceptions.

Vs. Display Rules

Complete expressive suppression means that no facial expressions are visible to exemplify a given emotion. However, display rules are examples of a controlled form of expression management and “involve the learned manipulation of facial expression to agree with cultural conventions and interpersonal expectations in the pursuit of tactical and/or strategic social ends”  The utilisation of display rules differs from expressive suppression because when display rules are enacted, the action to manage expression is voluntary, controlled, and incorporates certain types of expressive behaviour. Conversely, expressive suppression is involuntary and is the result of social pressures that shape subconscious behaviours. It is not a controlled action nor does expressive suppression involve the manipulation of voluntary expressions, it is only manifested in the absence of expression. There are three ways in which facial expression displays may be influenced: modulation, qualification, and falsification. Modulation refers to the act of showing a different amount of expression than one feels. Qualification requires the addition of an extra (unfelt) emotional expression to the expression of a felt emotion. Lastly, falsification has three separate components. Falsification incorporates:

  • Expressing an unfelt emotion (simulation);
  • Expressing no emotion when an emotion is felt (neutralisation); or
  • Concealing a felt emotion by expressing an unfelt emotion (masking).

A Response-Focused Strategy

Expressive suppression is an emotion management strategy that works to decrease positive emotional experiences, however, it has not been proven to reduce the experience of negative emotions. This strategy is a response-focused form of emotion regulation, which “refers to things we do once an emotion is underway and response tendencies have already been generated”. Response-focused strategies are generally not as successful as antecedent-focused regulation strategies, which refers to “things we do, either consciously or automatically, before emotion-response tendencies have become fully activated”. Srivastava and colleagues performed a study in 2009 in which the effectiveness of students’ use of expressive suppression was analysed in the transition period between high school and college. This study concluded that “suppression is an antecedent of poor social functioning” in the domains of social support, closeness, and social satisfaction.

Psychological Consequences

Suppressing the expression of emotion is one of the most frequent emotion-regulation strategies utilized by human beings. Clinical traditions state that a person’s psychological health is based upon how affective impulses are regulated; the consequences of affective regulation have become, therefore, a main focus of psychological researchers. The psychological consequences directly related to expressive suppression are frequently disputed. Some early 20th-century researchers state that suppressing a physical emotional response while emotionally aroused will increase the emotional experience due to concentration on suppressing that emotion. These researchers argue that common sense tells us emotions become more severe the longer they are bottled up. Other researchers dispute this theory, saying that emotional expression is so significant to the overall emotional response that when suppression occurs, all other responses (e.g. physiological) are weakened. These researchers solidify this argument with the tradition that people are taught to count to ten when emotionally aroused in order to calm themselves down. If suppressing emotions were to increase the emotional experience, this counting exercise would only intensify a person’s reactions. However, it has been deemed to do the opposite. Unfortunately, few studies have been carried out to test these hypotheses. The idea that people have conflicting views on what is better – to bottle up emotions by counting to ten before acting/speaking or to release emotions as bottling them up is bad for your mental health – is of constant interest to researchers in the field of emotion. These differing views on such a commonplace human behaviour suggest that expressive suppression is one of the more complicated emotion-regulation techniques.

As a solution to these opposing ideas, it has been suggested (and mentioned in the Externalisers vs. Internalisers section above) that people have a tendency to be either emotionally expressive (externalisers) or inexpressive (internalisers). The habitual use of one expressive technique over the other leads to different psychological and physiological consequences over time. Expressive behaviour is directly related to emotional suppression as it is assumed that internalisers consciously choose not to express themselves. However, this assumption has gone primarily untested with the exception of a 1979 study by Notarius and Levenson, whose research found that internalisers are more physiologically reactive to emotional stimuli than externalisers. One explanation for these findings was that when a behavioural emotional response is suppressed it must be released in other ways, in this case physiological reactions. These findings lend themselves to the suggestion by Cannon (1927) and Jones (1935) that emotional suppression intensifies other reactions.

It has also been suggested that illness and disease is increased by continued emotional suppression, especially the suppression of intensely aggressive emotions such as anger and hostility which can lead to hypertension and coronary heart-disease. As well as physical illness, expressive suppression is said to be the cause of mental illnesses such as depression. Many psychotherapists will try to relieve their patients’ illness/strain by teaching them expressive techniques in a controlled environment or within the particular relationship in which their suppressed emotions are causing problems. A counter-argument to this idea suggests that expressive suppression is an important part of emotional regulation that needs to be learned due to its beneficial use in adulthood. Adults must learn to successfully suppress certain emotional responses (e.g. those to anger which could have destructive social consequences). However, then the question is whether or not to suppress all anger-related responses, or to release those less volatile in order to reduce the risk of contracting physical and mental illnesses. The Clinical Theory implies that there is an optimum level between total suppression and total expression which, during adulthood, a person must find in order to protect their physical and psychological being.

While expressive suppression may be socially acceptable in certain situations, it cannot be considered a healthy practice at all times. Concealing and suppressing expressions can cause stress-related physiological reactions. Stress occurs because “the social disapproval and punishment of overt emotional expression that causes suppression is itself intimidating and stressful”.  There are several occupations which require the suppression of positive or negative emotions, such as estate agents masking their happiness when an offer is placed on a house to maintain their professionalism, or elementary-school teachers suppressing their anger so as to not upset their young students when teaching them right from wrong. Only in recent studies have researchers begun looking into the effects that continual suppression of emotion in the workplace has on people. Continual suppression causes strain on those utilising it, especially on those who may be natural externalisers. Strain elicited by such suppression can cause an elevated heart-rate, increased anxiety, low commitment and other effects which can be detrimental to an employee. The common conception is that expressive suppression in the workplace is beneficial for the organization and dangerous for the employee over long periods of time.[citation needed] However, in a 2005 study, Cote found that factors contributing to the social dynamics of emotions determine when emotion regulation increases, decreases, or does not affect strain at all. The suppression of unpleasant emotions such as anger contribute to increasing high levels of strain

Link with Depression

Expressive suppression, as an emotion regulation strategy, serves different purposes such as supporting goal pursuits and satisfying hedonic needs. Though expressive suppression is considered a weak influence on the experience of emotion, it has other functions. Expressive suppression is a goal-oriented strategy which is guided by people’s beliefs and potentially by abstract theories about emotion regulation. In a 2012 study by Larsen and colleagues, the researchers looked at the positive association between expressive suppression and depressive symptoms among adults and adolescents which are influenced by parental support and peer victimisation. They found a reciprocal relationship between parental support and depressive symptoms. The same was not true for the relationship between peer victimisation and depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms followed decreased perception of parental support one year later. They found that initial suppression occurred after increases in depressive symptoms one year later, yet depression did not occur after suppression.

However, in a continuation of their original study, Larsen and colleagues found that this relationship between suppression and depression was reversed. Depressive symptoms occurred after the use of suppression, and suppression did not occur after future depressive symptoms. The authors of this study support that expressive suppression has physiological, social, and cognitive costs. Some evidence says that “depressed people judge their negative emotions as less socially acceptable” than non-depressed people. ”Appraising one’s emotions as unacceptable mediates the relationship between negative emotion intensity and use of suppression”.

Negative Social Consequences

As an appropriate level of expressive suppression is important for physiological and psychological health, it is equally as important for the maintenance of social situations. However, excessive use of expressive suppression can negatively affect social interactions. While expressive suppression may seem like an easier way of coping with emotions in society or of becoming more likable in a social environment, it actually alters behaviour in a way that is visible and undesirable to others. Because expressive suppression is an action that occurs in social interactions, it is reasonable that this emotion regulation strategy would have social implications. Specifically, suppression involves three social costs. The act of suppressing facial expressions prohibits others in the social world from gaining information about a suppressor’s emotional state. This can prevent a suppressor from receiving social emotional benefits such as sympathy or sharing in collective positive and negative emotions that “facilitate social bonding”.  Secondly, expressive suppression is not always fully successful. If a suppressor accidentally shows signs of concealed feelings, others may perceive that the suppressor is covering up true emotions and may assume that the suppressor is insincere and uninterested in forming legitimate social relationships. Lastly, expressive suppression is hard work and therefore requires more cognitive processing than freely communicating emotions. If a suppressor is unable to devote full attention to social interactions because he/she is using cognitive power to suppress, the suppressor will not be able to remain engaged nor put in the work to maintain relationships.

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What is Inner Relationship Focusing?

Introduction

Inner Relationship Focusing (IRF) is a psychotherapeutic system and process developed by Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, as a refinement and expansion of the Focusing process discovered and developed by Eugene Gendlin in the late 1960s.

IRF is a process for emotional healing, and for accessing positive energy and insights for forward movement in one’s life.

Cornell, while a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Chicago, met Gendlin in 1972 and learned his technique. In 1980 she began collaborating with him in teaching his Focusing workshops. Using her capacity for linguistics, Cornell helped develop the concept of Focusing guiding, and in the early 1980s she offered the first seminars on Focusing guiding. Her continuation of this process led to her development, with Barbara McGavin, of Inner Relationship Focusing.

Brief History

IRF took shape when Ann Weiser Cornell moved from Chicago to California in 1983 and began teaching Focusing to people who knew nothing about it. She discovered that many people who were not automatically adept at it needed new techniques and new language to draw out their ability to learn the process. Eventually her discoveries of what worked best for the majority of people, combined with the input, inspiration, and insights of her British collaborator Barbara McGavin, evolved into IRF in the 1990s. Cornell incorporated her new techniques and insights into her first books, The Focusing Student’s Manual (1993) and The Focusing Guide’s Manual (1994) – both later revised with Barbara McGavin and published in 2002 as The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual – and in all of her subsequent books, which have become classic textbooks on Focusing.

Description

IRF is a refined and expanded form of Eugene Gendlin’s original six-step process of Focusing, which he had detailed in his 1978 book of the same title. IRF emphasizes being in gentle, allowing relationship with all parts of one’s being, including parts that are in conflict, parts often denied or pushed away as unacceptable or demeaning, parts that are overwhelming, and parts that are so buried or subtle they need to be drawn out with patience and gentleness. In allowing all aspects of the personality to be held in acceptance and awareness, new insights and shifts can emerge and healing can occur. IRF therefore emphasizes the relationship of the Self with the various inner aspects, however painful, and it relies specifically on a quality of Presence, or the ability of the Self to be present with these aspects in a quality of friendliness, gentle curiosity, and nonjudgement. A major feature of IRF is gently finding out how a specific aspect or felt experience feels from its point of view. Another feature is giving awareness to parts of oneself that are opposing – either afraid of or objecting to – a difficult or troublesome part. IRF radically allows and accepts all parts or inner experiences. It also avoids the extremes of denial/”exile” and merging/identification/overwhelm, through using the quality of Presence to gently experience and navigate one’s inner world in a calm, detached, but gently curious and inviting way.

Differences from Gendlin’s Original Focusing

Eugene Gendlin’s original Focusing process, described in his 1978 book, is a process that he generalises as having six steps:

  1. Clearing a space;
  2. Allowing a “felt sense” to form;
  3. Finding a handle;
  4. Resonating;
  5. Asking; and
  6. Receiving.

IRF, developed in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, is a more fluid process, and eschews or modifies certain aspects of Gendlin’s. For instance, rather than clearing a space, IRF uses a mental scan of the body for what feels open and alive, and what needs acknowledging – without moving any issue “out” – in order to more fully accept or find what may be wanting attention.

Rather than “asking”, the Focuser uses the quality of Presence to allow what wants to be expressed – hidden feelings, thoughts, and incipient information – to come forth. The guide, if used, gives gentle suggestions rather than asking questions in order not to intrude on the process or deflect attention away from the inner experience. This stage, which includes the stage called “resonating” in Gendlin’s format, is an important and lengthy one in IRF, and includes settling down with “it” (the felt experience or the partial self), keeping it company, and sensing its point of view, including what it wants and what it does not want.

An important principle in IRF is not denying or exiling any thoughts, feelings, or partial selves – not even the inner critic – but rather empathising with all parts and aspects and sensing what they want to communicate and why. Cornell calls this “the radical acceptance of everything”. Another central principle is the aspect of Presence, or “Self-in-Presence”: gentle listening, with equanimity, to everything that comes up in the Focusing process. In addition, specific language and language/thought patterns are encouraged, which Cornell calls “Presence language”, in order to facilitate this process. And as indicated by its name, IRF gives high priority to the relationship of the Focuser to his inwardly felt experience or aspects of his inner life. The role of the guide, if one is used, is to support this relationship.

Influence

Since the early 1990s Cornell has taught IRF throughout the US at venues including Esalen, the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine, and the American Psychological Association, and also around the world. IRF is now used and taught all over the world, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Psychologist and self-help author Helene Brenner calls IRF “one of the most powerful techniques I know for emotional healing”. CC Leigh, whose Inseeing Process of self-healing and spiritual growth is largely based on IRF, calls IRF a “highly refined technology for getting in touch with the inner dynamics that typically lie beneath the threshold of awareness, and befriending them from a state of Presence so they can open up and organically evolve”. IRF has been recommended in several 21st-century psychology textbooks, stress-reduction manuals, and other self-improvement texts, and it is the commonest adaptation of the Focusing form used today.

What is Affective Labour?

Introduction

Affective labour is work carried out that is intended to produce or modify emotional experiences in people.

This is in contrast to emotional labour, which is intended to produce or modify one’s own emotional experiences. Coming out of Autonomist feminist critiques of marginalised and so-called “invisible” labour, it has been the focus of critical discussions by, e.g., Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Juan Martin Prada, and Michael Betancourt.

Although its history is as old as that of labour itself, affective labour has been of increasing importance to modern economies since the emergence of mass culture in the nineteenth century. The most visible institutionalised form of affective labour is perhaps advertising, which typically attempts to make audiences relate to products through particular effects. Yet there are many other areas in which affective labour figures prominently, including service and care industries whose purpose is to make people feel in particular ways. Domestic work, frequently ignored by other analysts of labour, has also been a critical focus of theories of affective labour.

Brief History

The phrase affective labour, seen broadly, has its roots in the Autonomist critiques of the 1970s, in particular those that theorise a dynamic form of capitalism that is able to move away from purely industrial labour. In particular, the “Fragment on Machines,” from Marx’s Grundrisse, and conceptions of immaterial labour decentred the focus of labour theory and sparked debate over what constituted real labour:

No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing (Naturgegenstand) as middle link between the object (Objekt) and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth.

Meanwhile, movements such as Selma James and Marirosa Dalla Costa’s Wages for housework campaign attempted to activate the most exploited and invisible sectors of the economy and challenge the typical, male and industrial focus of labour studies.

Hardt and Negri

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have begun to develop this concept in their books Empire and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire.

In their recent work, Hardt and Negri focus on the role affective labour plays in the current mode of production (which can be referred to as “imperial”, “late capitalist”, or “postmodern”). In this passage from Multitude they briefly define their key terms:

“Unlike emotions, which are mental phenomena, affects refer equally to body and mind. In fact, affects, such as joy and sadness, reveal the present state of life in the entire organism, expressing a certain state of the body along with a certain mode of thinking. Affective labor, then, is labor that produces or manipulates affects…. One can recognize affective labor, for example, in the work of legal assistants, flight attendants, and fast food workers (service with a smile). One indication of the rising importance of affective labor, at least in the dominant countries, is the tendency for employers to highlight education, attitude, character, and “prosocial” behavior as the primary skills employees need. A worker with a good attitude and social skills is another way of saying a worker is adept at affective labor.”

The most important point in their scholarship with respect to this issue is that immaterial labour, of which affective labour is a specific form, has achieved dominance in the current mode of production. This does not mean that there are more immaterial laborers than material laborers, or that immaterial labour produces more capital than material labour. Instead, this dominance is signalled by the fact that, in developed countries, labour is more often figured as immaterial than material. To illustrate the significance of this claim, they draw a comparison between the early twenty-first century and that of the mid-nineteenth century, famously engaged by Karl Marx, in which factory labour was dominant even if it was not the form of labour practiced by the most people. One popular, albeit slightly less than perfect example, of this might be that, whereas Fred Flintstone, as an average American, drove a crane in a quarry, Homer Simpson sits at a desk and provides safety.

Role in the Political Economy

Michael Betancourt has suggested that affective labour may have a role in the development and maintenance of what he has termed “agnotologic capitalism”. His point is that affective labour is a symptom of the disassociation between the reality of capitalist economy and the alienation it produces:

The affective labor created to address this alienation is part of the mechanisms where the agnotological order maintains its grip on the social: managing the emotional states of the consumers, who also serve as the labor reserve, is a necessary precondition for the effective management of the quality and range of information.

His construction of affective labour is concerned with its role as an enabler for a larger capitalist superstructure, where the reduction of alienation is a precondition for the elimination of dissent. Affective labour is part of a larger activity where the population is distracted by affective pursuits and fantasies of economic advancement.

What is Affect Labelling?

Introduction

Affect labelling is an implicit emotional regulation strategy that can be simply described as “putting feelings into words”.

Refer to Affect Regulation.

Plutchik Wheel

Specifically, it refers to the idea that explicitly labelling one’s, typically negative, emotional state results in a reduction of the conscious experience, physiological response, and/or behaviour resulting from that emotional state. For example, writing about a negative experience in one’s journal may improve one’s mood. Some other examples of affect labelling include discussing one’s feelings with a therapist, complaining to friends about a negative experience, posting one’s feelings on social media or acknowledging the scary aspects of a situation.

Affect labelling is an extension of the simple concept that talking about one’s feelings can make oneself feel better. Although this idea has been used in talk therapy for over a century, formal research into affect labelling has only begun in recent years. Already, researchers have quantified some of the emotion-regulatory effects of affect labelling, such as decreases in subjective emotional affect, reduced activity in the amygdala, and a lower skin conductance response to frightening stimuli. As a consequence of being a relatively new technique in the area of emotion regulation, affect labelling tends to be compared to, and is often confused with, emotional reappraisal, another emotion-regulatory technique. A key difference between the two is that while reappraisal intuitively feels like a strategy to control one’s emotions, affect labelling often does not. Even when someone does not intend to regulate their emotions, the act of labelling one’s emotions still has positive effects.

Affect labelling is still in the early stages of research and thus, there is much about it that remains unknown. While there are several theories for the mechanism by which affect labelling acts, more research is needed to provide empirical support for these hypotheses. Additionally, some work has been done on the applications of affect labelling to real-world issues, such as research that suggests affect labelling may be commonplace on social media sites. Affect labelling also sees some use in clinical settings as a tentative treatment for fear and anxiety disorders. Nonetheless, research on affect labelling has largely focused on laboratory studies, and further research is needed to understand its effects in the real world.

Brief History

The notion that talking about or writing down one’s feelings can be beneficial is not a recent one. People have kept diaries for centuries, and the use of talk therapy dates back to the beginnings of psychotherapy. Over the past few decades, the idea that putting one’s feelings into words can be beneficial has been shown experimentally. More recently, the concept of affect labelling has grown out of this literature, honing in on the emotion regulation aspect of the benefits of vocalising feelings.

In recent years, research on affect labelling has mostly focused on proving its applicability as an emotion regulation strategy. Although some research exists on the behavioural and neural mechanisms behind its effectiveness, this area of study is still in its early, speculative stages.

Regulatory Effects

Emotional Experience

When engaging in affect labelling, subjects subjectively report lower levels of emotional affect than they do in identical conditions without the affect labelling. This effect is not only found when subjects rate their own emotional state, but also when they label the emotion displayed or evoked by stimuli such as images.

Autonomic Response

Autonomic responses characteristic of various emotions may decrease after performing affect labelling. For instance, upon quantifying their level of anger on a rating scale, subjects subsequently experienced decreases in heart rate and cardiac output. Research also indicates that giving labels to aversive stimuli results in a lower skin conductance response when similar aversive stimuli are presented in the future, implying affect labelling can have long-term effects on autonomic responses.

Neuroscientific Basis

Research has found that engaging in affect labelling results in higher brain activity within the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), and reduced activity in the amygdala when compared to other tasks involving emotional stimuli. In addition, evidence from brain lesion studies also point to the vlPFC’s involvement in the affect labelling process. Subjects with lesions to the right vlPFC were less able to identify the emotional state of a character throughout a film. This implies that the region is required in order for affect-labelling to take place. Additionally, it has been shown through meta-analysis that while the amygdala is found to be active in tasks involving emotional stimuli, activity is lower when subjects had to identify the emotions rather than simply passively viewing the stimuli.

One theory that integrates these findings proposes that the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex works to down-regulate activity in the amygdala during affect labelling. This theory is supported by evidence from several studies that found negative connectivity between the two brain regions during an affect-labelling task. Furthermore, researchers have used dynamic causal modelling to show specifically that increased activity in the vlPFC is the cause of lower amygdala activity.

Comparison to Emotional Reappraisal

Emotional reappraisal is an emotion regulation technique where an emotional stimulus is reinterpreted in a new, usually less negative, fashion in order to reduce its effect. As an example, someone might reinterpret a bad test score as being a learning experience, rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of the situation. As it is a related emotion regulation strategy, affect labelling research often draws insight from the existing literature on reappraisal.

The most salient difference between affect labelling and reappraisal lies in people’s perception of the efficacy of affect labelling. Unlike reappraisal, affect labelling’s effectiveness in regulating emotion is fairly unintuitive. Research has shown that while subjects expect reappraisal to reduce emotional distress, they predict the opposite for affect labelling, expecting the vocalisation of feelings to actually increase their emotional distress. In reality, while the magnitude of the reduction in emotional response is found to be stronger for reappraisal than for affect labelling, both strategies produce a noticeable decrease.

Individuals who respond more to reappraisal after the presentation of emotional stimuli tend to also benefit more from affect labelling, indicating they may act through the same mechanism.

Reappraisal and affect labelling share similarities in their neural signatures. As in affect labelling, reappraisal produces activity in the vlPFC while inhibiting response in the amygdala. However, in contrast to affect labelling, reappraisal has also been found to generate activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Possible Mechanisms

Distraction

One possible explanation for affect labelling’s effectiveness is that it is simply preventing the labeller from fully experiencing the emotional response by drawing their attention away. Distraction techniques have been shown to elicit similar neural activity as affect labelling, with increased activity in the vlPFC and decreased in the amygdala. Additionally, some explicit distraction paradigms have been shown to result in similar reductions of negative emotions.

However, evidence is mixed on this front, as other tasks that involve turning attention away, such as a gender labelling task, do not produce the same reduction. Applications of affect labelling seem to suggest that the mechanism of action is not simply distraction. When applied with exposure therapy, affect labelling was found to be much more effective in reducing skin conductance response than distraction. Affect labelling is also known to result in long-term benefits in clinical settings, whereas distraction is generally considered to negatively affect progress.

Self-Reflection

Another proposed mechanism for affect labelling is through self-reflection. Emotional introspection differs from affect labelling in that it does not require explicit labelling of emotion; however, engaging in introspection has similar effects to affect labelling. As such, rather than being the entire process, affect labelling could act as a first-step in an emotional introspective process. Evidence supporting this mechanism uses a measure of dispositional mindfulness to quantify people’s ability to self-reflect. Researchers were able to link dispositional mindfulness to affect labelling by showing that people with higher levels of dispositional mindfulness showed stronger brain activation in regions associated with affect labelling, such as the vlPFC. Additionally, they showed greater reductions in activity in the amygdala, suggesting that mindfulness modulates the effectiveness of affect labelling, and lending support to the idea that introspection is the mechanism of action.

Unfortunately, this theory of affect labelling struggles to explain affect labelling’s benefits on stimuli that do not apply to the self. For instance, the regulatory effects of labelling external stimuli, such as faces or aversive images presented during an experiment, are unlikely to be explained by a self-reflective process.

Reduction of Uncertainty

People are known to be ambiguity averse, and the complexity of emotion can often create uncertainty in feelings that is unpleasant. Some researchers believe that affect labelling acts by reducing uncertainty in emotion. This is supported by neural evidence connecting uncertainty to activity in the amygdala. Affect labelling has been shown to down-regulate activity in the amygdala, and this may be a result of the reduction of uncertainty of feelings.

Evidence against this theory is the fact that while some emotions are characteristically uncertain, such as fear or anxiety, others tend to be more straightforward, e.g. sadness and anger. Since affect labelling is known to work across all these types of emotions, it is unlikely that uncertainty reduction is the only mechanism by which it acts.

Symbolic Conversion

Another theory of affect labelling posits that the act of labelling is a sort of symbolic encoding of information, changing the stimulus into language. It has been proposed that this symbolic conversion may act as a type of psychological distancing from the stimulus, leading to overall lower levels of affect. While affect labelling specifically refers to giving labels to emotions, assigning abstract content labels, such as identifying objects as “human”, “landscape”, etc., has been found to yield many of the same benefits. There is neural evidence to support this as well. Several studies have found that when subjects classify stimuli based on non-emotional categories, they exhibit greater vlPFC activity and less activity in the amygdala, just like in affect labelling. The fact that labelling non-emotional stimuli has similar effects to that of emotional stimuli suggests that the simple act of converting a stimulus into language may be driving the effect.

Applications

Social Media

The act of posting about one’s feelings on social media sites such as Twitter is a type of affect labelling. One research study analysed 74,487 Twitter users’ tweets for emotional contact, classifying tweets as either before or after instances of affect labelling, which were identified as tweets stating “I feel…”. The researchers found that emotions tended to increase in valence over time in tweets preceding the affect labelling tweet, with the greatest positive or negative emotion being experienced closest to the act of labelling. After the affect labelling tweet, the emotional intensity of the following tweets was found to fall off quickly, going back to baseline levels of valence. The results of this study support the application of affect labelling as an emotion regulation strategy in real-world settings, and show that social media users engage, potentially unknowingly, in affect labelling all the time.

Mental Health

A small body of work has begun to look at affect labelling’s potential as a clinical treatment in conjunction with exposure therapy for phobias, anxiety disorders, and other stress disorders.

One study found that subjects with high public speaking anxiety who chose from a set of predetermined emotion words to describe their feelings before giving a speech in front of an audience showed greater reductions in anxiety, quantified by physiological responses such as heart rate, than subjects who performed a control, shape-matching, task before giving their speeches. These results suggest that combining affect labelling with an exposure treatment is more effective than exposure alone. Notably, the affect labelling and control conditions found no difference in self-reported anxiety; however, physiological responses characteristic of anxiety were reduced for the subjects who performed the affect labelling.

Another study found similar results in spider-fearful individuals, exposing them to a tarantula over two days while simultaneously verbalising their feelings. Compared to subjects in reappraisal, distraction, and control conditions, subjects who engaged in affect labelling showed lower skin conductance response than the other conditions, although there was no difference between conditions in self-reported fear.

Although there is tentative evidence for the value of affect labelling in clinical settings, researchers acknowledge that there is still a need for many more studies drawing from clinical populations in order to deduce the value of using affect labelling in conjunction with other treatments before it can be safely adopted into practice.

Limitations and Concerns

The use of self-report measures of emotion in psychological research may invoke affect labelling, even in studies unrelated to the topic. Whether or not this poses a problem for emotion researchers is still largely unknown.

Although affect labelling appears be effective in laboratory studies with many participants, as with all psychological phenomena, individuals will vary in their experience. The reasons for individual differences in the effectiveness of affect labelling are in need of further research. Furthermore, paradigms used to study affect labelling differ widely, with some providing subjects with pre-prepared labels to select, while others require subjects to self-generate their own labels. These paradigms produce noticeable differences in results, with self-generative paradigms finding more long-term delayed effects of regulation, and pre-prepared paradigms finding immediate effects. The explanation for the differences in these results is still relatively unexplored, though some suspect it may be due to pre-prepared labels implying a kind of interpersonal emotion regulation, since it may be interpreted as a kind of support from the experimenter.

Whether or not the laboratory findings about affect labelling are applicable to affect labelling in the real world is another question researchers must ask. The situations in which people use affect labelling in real life are rich with context, and it is difficult to say whether the particular operationalisations of affect labelling used in a study allow the results to generalise.

What is Group Emotion?

Introduction

Group emotion refers to the moods, emotions and dispositional affects of a group of people. It can be seen as either an emotional entity influencing individual members’ emotional states (top down) or the sum of the individuals’ emotional states (bottom up).

Top Down Approach

This view sees the group’s dynamic processes as responsible for an elusive feeling state which influences the members’ feelings and behaviour. This view, that groups have an existence as entities beyond the characters that comprise them, has several angles.

Effects on Individuals

One angle of this approach was depicted in early works such as Le Bon’s and Freud’s who reasoned that there is a general influence of a crowd or group which makes the members of the group “feel, think and act” differently than they would have as isolated individuals. The reassurance of belonging to a crowd makes people act more extremely. Also, the intense uniformity of feelings is overwhelming and causes people to be emotionally swept to join the group’s atmosphere. Thus, the effect of the group causes emotions to be exaggerated.

Norms

Another aspect of the group as a whole perspective sees the normative forces a group has on its members’ emotional behaviour such as norms for the amount of feelings’ expression and even which emotions it is best to feel. The group’s norms control which emotions would (or at least should) be displayed at a specific situation according to the group’s best interest and goals. The norms help differentiate felt emotions, what the individuals actually feel, from expressed emotions, what they display in the current situation. This perspective has practical implications as shown by researchers. Thus, according to this angle the group causes the emotions to be moderated and controlled.

Binding Force

Another perspective emphasizes the importance of emotional attraction in group settings. It defines group emotion as members’ desire to be together, and finds that emotional ties are a type of glue which holds groups together and influences the group’s cohesiveness and the commitment to the task. This perspective focuses on the positive emotions of liking the other group members and the task at hand.

Indicator

This perspective of the group as a whole approach studies the dynamic development of the group, from its establishment to its disassembly. Along the course the group changes in its interrelationships and interdependence amongst its members. These changes are accompanied by emotional processes which shape the outcome of the group. For instance, the midpoint in a group’s development is characterised by anxiety and anticipation about the capacity of the team to complete its goals, which drives teams to restructure their interaction patterns following the midpoint. Should the group harness these feelings and overcome the crisis stronger, its chances of completing the group’s goals are higher. In other cases, negative emotions towards members of the group or towards the task might jeopardise the group’s existence. This perspective sees the temporal changes of the emotions that govern the group.

Bottom Up

Contrary to the former approach, this approach views group-level emotion as the sum of its individuals’ affective compositions. These affective compositions are actually the emotional features each member brings with them to the group, such as: dispositional affect, mood, acute emotions, emotional intelligence, and sentiments (affective evaluations of the group). The team affective composition approach helps to understand the group emotion and its origins, and how these individual members’ affective predisposition combine to become one common entity. For the purpose of combining these individual characteristics, one can embrace several viewpoints:

Average Mood

Research has shown that by averaging the members’ dispositional affective tone it is possible to predict group-level behaviour such as absenteeism and prosocial behaviour. Also, when the average mood of employees was positive, it was positively related to the team’s performance.

Emotional Variance

Affective-homogenous groups are expected to behave differently from heterogeneous ones. The verdict is yet to be decided as to whether homogeneity is better than heterogeneity. In favour of affective homogeneity stand the notion that familiarity and similarity bring feelings of liking, comfort and positive emotions, and thus presumably better group outcomes and performances. It has long been found that people prefer to be in a group similar to them in many perspectives. A support for the positive effects of homogeneity can be found in a study that examined homogeneity in managers’ positive affectivity (PA) and its influence on several aspects of performance such as satisfaction, cooperation and financial outcome of the organisation. On the other hand, according to the view of opposites being beneficial, affective heterogeneity may lead to more emotional checks and balances which could then lead to better team performance. This was found to be true especially in groups where creativity is needed to complete the task appropriately. Homogeneity might lead to groupthink and hamper performance. It is necessary though for group members in heterogeneous groups to accept and allow one another to enact their different emotional roles.

Emotionally Extreme Members

Even if there is only one member in an otherwise averaged group which is extremely negative (or positive) in effect, that person might influence the affective state of the other members and cause the group to be much more negative (or positive) than would be expected from its mean-level dispositional affect. This mood shift might happen through emotional contagion, in which members are “infected” by others’ emotions, as well as through other processes. Emotional contagion has been observed even in absence of non-verbal cues, for example on online social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Combining Approaches

The above approaches can be combined in a way that they maintain reciprocal relations. For instance, members bring dispositional affective states and norms for expressing them to the team. These components are then factors determining the creation of group norms, which may in turn alter the moods, feelings and their expression by the members. Thus, the top-down and bottom-up approaches coalesce along the dynamic formation and lifespan of teams.

Empirical Definition

One study compared the reports of team members to reports of outside-observers. It showed that team affect and emotions were observable by and agreed upon by outsiders as well as by members of the team interacting face to face. So, it is possible to identify the group’s affective tone by aggregating self-reports of members of the group, as well as by viewing the group from the outside and looking for emotional gestures, both verbal and nonverbal.

Affecting Group Emotion

Studies show that the leader of the team has an important part in determining the moods of their team’s members. Such that members of a team with a leader in a negative affective state tend to be more negative themselves than members of teams with a leader in a positive mood. However, any member of the group might influence the other members’ emotions. The leader may do so either by way of implicit, automatic, emotional contagion or by explicit, deliberate, emotional influence in order to promote his interests. Other factors that affect the forming of the group’s emotional state are its emotional history, its norms for expressing feelings and the broader organisational norms regarding emotions.

Influence on Performance

The emotional state of the group influences team processes and outcomes. For example, a group in a positive mood displays more coordination between members, yet sometimes the effort they apply is not as high as groups in a negative mood. Another role emotions play in group dynamics and performance is the relation between intra-group task-conflicts and relationship-conflicts. It is assumed that conflicts related to the task can be beneficial for achieving the goal, unless these task-conflicts lead to relationship-conflicts among the team members, in which case the performance is hindered. The traits that decouple task from relationship conflicts are emotional attributes such as emotional intelligence, intragroup relational ties, and norms for reducing or preventing negative emotionality. Hence aspects of group emotion affect the outcome. Other findings are that an increase in positive mood will lead to greater cooperativeness and less group conflict. Also, positive mood results in elevated perceptions of task performance.

Evolutionary-Psychological Perspective

According to the evolutionary psychology approach, group affect has a function of helping communication between members of the group. The emotional state of the group informs its members about factors in the environment. For instance, if everyone is in a bad mood it is necessary to change the conditions, or perhaps work harder to achieve the goal and improve the conditions. Also, shared affect in groups coordinates group activity through fostering group bonds and group loyalty.

Emotional Aperture

Emotional aperture has been defined as the ability or skill to perceive features of group emotions. Examples of features of group emotions include the level of variability of emotions among members (i.e. affective diversity), the proportion of positive or negative emotions, and the modal (i.e. most common) emotion present in a group. The term “emotional aperture” was first defined by the social psychologist, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks and organisational theorist, Quy Huy. Analogous to adjusting a camera’s aperture setting to increase depth of field, emotional aperture involves adjusting one’s depth of field to bring into focus not solely the emotions of one person but also others scattered across a visual landscape. The difference between perceiving individual-level emotions versus group-level emotions is builds upon the distinction between analytic versus holistic perception.

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 Self-Discrepancy Theory?

Introduction

The self-discrepancy theory states that individuals compare their “actual” self to internalised standards or the “ideal/ought self”. Inconsistencies between “actual”, “ideal” (idealised version of yourself created from life experiences) and “ought” (who persons feel they should be or should become) are associated with emotional discomforts (e.g. fear, threat, restlessness). Self-discrepancy is the gap between two of these self-representations that leads to negative emotions.

Developed by Edward Tory Higgins in 1987, the theory provides a platform for understanding how different types of discrepancies between representations of the self are related to different kinds of emotional vulnerabilities. Higgins sought to illustrate that internal disagreement causes emotional and psychological turmoil. There were several previous theories proving this concept such as the self-inconsistency theory, the cognitive dissonance theory, and the imbalance theory (e.g. Heider, 1958); however, Higgins wanted to take it one step further by determining the specific emotions that surfaced as a result of these internal disagreements. Previous self-imbalance theories had recognised only positive or negative emotions. The self-discrepancy theory was the first to assign specific emotions and affects to the disparity.

The theory proposes how a variety of self-discrepancies represents a variety of types of negative psychological situations that are associated with different kinds of discomfort. A primary goal of the self-discrepancy theory is to create an understanding of which types of contrasting ideas will cause such individuals to feel different kinds of negative emotions.

The structure of the theory was built based on three ideas. First classify the different kinds of discomfort felt by those people holding contrasting ideals experienced, as well as the various types of emotional vulnerabilities felt by the different types of discrepancies. Lastly, to consider the role of the different discrepancies in influencing the kind and type of discomfort individuals are most likely to experience.

Domains of the Self

The theory postulates three basic domains of the self.

DomainDescription
ActualActual self is one’s representation of the attributes that one believes one actually possesses, or that one believes others believe one possesses. The “actual self” is a person’s basic self-concept. It is one’s perception of their own attributes (intelligence, athleticism, attractiveness, etc.).
IdealIdeal self is one’s representation of the attributes that someone (oneself or another) would like one, ideally, to possess (i.e. a representation of someone’s hopes, aspirations, or wishes for one). The “ideal-self” is what usually motivates individuals to change, improve and achieve. The ideal self-regulatory system focuses on the presence or absence of positive outcomes (e.g. love provided or withdrawn).
OughtOught is one’s representation of the attributes that someone (oneself or another) believes one should or ought to possess (i.e. a representation of someone’s sense of one’s duty, obligations, or responsibilities). The ought self-regulatory system focuses on the presence or absence of negative outcomes (e.g., criticism administered or suspended).

Standpoints of the Self

Self-discrepancy theory initiates the importance of considering two different standpoints (or vantage points) in which “the self” is perceived. A standpoint on the self is defined as “a point of view from which you can be judged that reflects a set of attitudes or values.”

Own

An individual’s own personal standpoint.

Other

The standpoint of some significant other. Significant others may comprise parents, siblings, spouses, or friends. The “other” standpoint is what the self perceives their significant other’s standpoint to be.

Except for theories focusing on the actual self, previous theories of the self had not systematically considered the different domain of self in terms of the different standpoints on those domains. These two constructs provide the basis from which discrepancies arise; that is, when certain domains of the self are at odds with one another, individuals experience particular emotional affects (ex: one’s beliefs concerning the attributes one would personally like ideally to possess versus your beliefs concerning the attributes that some significant other person, such as your mother, would like you ideally to possess).

Discrepancies

Discrepancies create two major types of negative physiological situations: absence of positive outcomes, which is associated with dejection-related emotions, and the presence of negative outcomes which is associated with agitation-related emotions.

ActualIdealOught
OwnSelf-ConceptSelf-GuideSelf-Guide
OtherSelf-ConceptSelf-GuideSelf-Guide

Self-Concept

Actual/Own vs. Actual/Other

These self-state representations are the basic self-concept (from either or both standpoints). Discrepancies between own self-concept, and other self-concept can be described as an identity crisis, which often occurs during adolescence. Guilt is a characteristic result of discrepancy from the own perspective. Shame is a characteristic result of discrepancy from the other perspective.

Self-Guide

Actual/Own vs. Ideal/Own

In this discrepancy, a person’s view of their actual attributes does not match the ideal attributes they hope to develop. Discrepancy between these self-guides is characterised by dejection-related emotions such as disappointment and dissatisfaction. Actual/ideal discrepancies are associated with low self-esteem and characterised by the threat of absence of positive outcomes. Specifically, an individual is predicted to be vulnerable to disappointment or dissatisfaction because these emotions are associated with people believing that their personal wishes have been unfulfilled. These emotions have been described as being associated with the individuals’ own standpoint and a discrepancy from his or her hope, desire, or ideals. The motivational nature of this discrepancy also suggests that it could be associated with frustration because of these unfulfilled desires. Emotions such as blameworthiness, feeling no interest in things, and not feeling effective was also associated with this discrepancy. In addition, this discrepancy is also associated with dejection from perceived lack of effectiveness or self-fulfilment. This discrepancy is uniquely associated with depression.

Actual/Own vs. Ideal/Other

Here, one’s view of their actual attributes does not match the ideal attributes their significant other hopes or wishes for them. The ideal self-guide is characterised by the absence of positive outcomes, and accompanied by dejection-related emotions. More specifically, because one believes that they have failed to obtain some significant other’s hopes or wishes are likely to believe that the significant other is disappointed and dissatisfied with them. In turn, individuals will be vulnerable to shame, embarrassment, or feeling downcast, because these emotions are associated with people believing that they have lost standing or esteem in the eyes of others. Analysis of shame and related emotions have been described as being associated with the standpoint of one or more other people and discrepancies from achievement and/or status standards. Other analyses describe shame as being associated with concern over losing the affection or esteem of others. When people have a sense of the difference between their actual self and their social ideal self, an individual will experience feelings of shame and unworthiness. Shame that is often experienced when there is a failure to meet a significant other’s goals or wishes involves loss of face and presumed exposure to the dissatisfaction of others. Feeling lack of pride, lack of feeling sure of self and goals, feeling lonely, feeling blue, and feeling not interested in things was also associated with this discrepancy. This discrepancy is associated with dejection from perceived or anticipated loss of social affection or esteem.

Actual/Own vs. Ought/Other

This discrepancy exists when a person’s own standpoint does not match what they believe a significant other considers to be his or her duty or obligation to attain. Agitation-related emotions are associated with this discrepancy and results in the presence of negative outcomes. More specifically, because violation of prescribed duties and obligations is associated with punishment, this particular discrepancy represents the presence of negative outcomes. The individual experiencing this discrepancy will have an expectation of punishment; therefore, the person is predicted to be vulnerable to fear and feeling threatened, because these emotions occur when danger or harm is anticipated or impending. Analyses of such emotions have described them as being associated with the standpoint of one or more other people and discrepancy from norms or moral standards. The motivational nature of this discrepancy suggests that one might experience feelings of resentment. The feeling of resentment arises from the anticipated pain to be inflicted by others. The person might also experience anxiety because of apprehension over negative responses from others. This discrepancy is associated with agitation from fear and threat. In addition, it is also associated with agitation from self-criticism. Social anxiety is uniquely associated with this discrepancy.

Actual/Own vs. Ought/Own

A discrepancy between these self-guides occurs when one’s view of their actual attributes do not meet the expectations of what they think they ought to possess. This discrepancy is associated with the presence of negative outcomes and is characterised by agitation-related emotions such as self-dissatisfaction. An individual predicts a readiness for self-punishment. The person is predicted to be vulnerable to guilt, self-contempt, and uneasiness, because these particular feelings occur when people believe they have transgressed a personally legitimate and accepted moral standard. Analysis of guilt have described it as associated with a person’s own standpoint and a discrepancy from his or her sense of morality or justice. The motivational nature of this discrepancy suggests associations with feelings of moral worthlessness or weakness. Transgression of one’s own internalised moral standards has been associated with guilt and self-criticism because when people attribute failure to a lack of sufficient effort on their part, they experience feelings of guilt.

Ideal vs. Ought

Ideal self and ought self act as self guides with which the actual self aspires to be aligned. The ideal self represents hopes and wishes, whereas the ought self is determined through obligation and sense of duty. In terms of the ideal or ought discrepancy and specific to self-regulatory approach vs. avoidance behaviours, the ideal domain is predisposed to approach behaviour and the ought domain is predisposed to avoidance behaviour.

Another Domain of Self

In 1999 Charles Carver and associates made a new amendment to the theory by adding the domain of feared self. Unlike the self guides proposed by Higgins which imply an actual or desired (better) self, the feared self is a domain that measures what one does not desire to be. In many cases, this may have a different level of influence in terms of priority on the self than previous domains and self-guides. It is human nature to avoid negative affect before approaching positives.

Availability and Accessibility of Self-Discrepancies

Beliefs that are incongruent are cognitive constructs and can vary in both their availability and accessibility. In order to establish which types of discrepancies an individual holds and which are likely to be active and produce their associated emotions at any point, the availability and accessibility of self-discrepancies must be distinguished.

Availability

The availability of a self-discrepancy depends on the extent to which the attributes of the two conflicted self-state representations diverge for the person in question. Each attribute in one of the self-state representations (actual/own) is compared to each attribute in the other self-state representation (ideal/own). Each pair of attributes is either a match or a mismatch. The larger variance between the number of matches and the number of nonmatches (i.e. the greater the divergence of attributes between the two self-state representations), the larger the magnitude of that type of self-discrepancy that is available. Furthermore, the greater the magnitude of a particular discrepancy produces more intense feelings of discomfort accompanying the discrepancy when activated.

The availability of the self-discrepancy is not enough to influence emotions. In order to do so, the self-discrepancy must also be activated. The variable that influences the probability of activation is its accessibility.

Accessibility

The accessibility of a self-discrepancy depends on the same factors that determine the accessibility of any stored construct. One factor is how recently the construct has been activated. The more often a construct is activated, the more likely it will be used later on to understand social events. The accessibility or likelihood of activation, of a stored construct also depends on the relation between its “meaning” and the properties of the stimulus event. A stored construct will not be used to interpret an event unless it is applicable to the event. Thus the negative psychological situation represented in a self-discrepancy (i.e. the “meaning” of the discrepancy) will not be activated by an explicitly positive event. In sum, the accessibility of self-discrepancy is determined by its recency of activation, its frequency of activation, and its applicability to the stimulus event. The theory posits that the greater the accessibility of a self-discrepancy, the more powerfully the person will experience the emotion accompanying that discrepancy.

The theory does not propose that individuals are aware of the accessibility or availability of their self-discrepancies. However, it is obvious that both the availability and accessibility can influence social information processing automatically and without awareness. Thus, self-discrepancy theory simulates that the available and accessible negative psychological situations embodied in one’s self-discrepancies can be used to provide meaning to events without being aware of either the discrepancies or their impact on processing. The measure of self-discrepancies requires only that one be able to retrieve attributes of specific self-state representations when asked to do so. It does not require that one be aware of the relations among these attributes of their significance.

Self-discrepancy theory hypothesizes that the greater the magnitude of a particular type of self-discrepancy possessed by a person, the more strongly the person will experience the emotion associated with that type of discrepancy.

Application and Use

Self-discrepancy theory becomes applicable when addressing some of the psychological problems individuals face with undesired self-image. The theory has been applied to psychological problems faced by college students compromising their career choice, understanding clinically depressed students, eating disorders, mental health and depression in chronically ill women and even developing self-confidence in athletes. Self-Discrepancy Theory inherently provides a means to systematically lessen negative affect associated with self-discrepancies by reducing the discrepancies between the self domains in conflict of one another. Not only has it been applied to psychological health, but also to other research and understanding to human emotions such as shame and guilt. The self-guided pressure society and ourselves induce throw an individual into turmoil. The theory finds many of its uses geared toward mental health, anxiety, and depression. Understanding what emotions are being aroused and the reasoning is important to reinstate psychological health.

Procrastination

Studies have correlated the theory and procrastination. Specifically, discrepancies in the actual/ought domain from the own perspective, are the strongest predictor of procrastination. Avoidance is the common theme. The actual/ought self-regulatory system responds through avoidance. Procrastinators also have an avoidance relationship with their goals.

Depression

Depression is associated with conflict between a person’s perceived actual self, and some standard, goal or aspiration. An actual/ought discrepancy triggers agitated depression (characterised by feelings of guilt, apprehension, anxiety or fear). An actual/ideal discrepancy triggers dejected depression (characterised by feelings of failure, disappointment, devaluation or shame).

Emotions

Higgins measured how individuals experienced self-discrepancies by having individuals reminisce and remember about “negative events or personal self-guides, including hopes, goals, duties, and obligations, and measure what will help increase the kind of discomfort that the individual experiences. The study found the “absence of an actual/own and ideal/own discrepancy” is associated with the emotions “happy” and “satisfied” and the “absence of an actual/own and ought/other discrepancy” is associated with the emotions “calm” and “secure”.

New Findings

Since its original conception in 1987, there have been a number of studies that have tested the legitimacy of self-discrepancy theory. Some of their findings do in fact contradict certain aspects of the theory, while another finds further evidence of its validly. These studies give insight into the research that has been done regarding self-discrepancy theory since its original conception in 1987.

Conducted in 1998, “Are Shame and Guilt Related to Distinct Self-Discrepancies? A Test of Higgins’s (1987) Hypotheses”, brought into question the correlations between specific discrepancy and emotional discomforts laid out by self-discrepancy theory. Researches believed that there was no way to tie a unique emotional discomfort to one internal discrepancy, but rather that various internal discrepancies result in a variety of discomforts. The study was carried out and the hypothesis was confirmed based on the results. The findings displayed no evidence suggesting a direct tie between specific discomforts and type of internal discrepancy.

“Self-discrepancies: Measurement and Relation to Various Negative Affective States”, also brought into question the core aspect of self-discrepancy theory – The correlation between specific discrepancies and the emotional discomforts that result. This study went one step further, also testing the validity of two methods used to observe internal discrepancies; “The Selves Questionnaire” or “SQ” along with the “Adjective Rating List” or “ARL”. The study found a strong relationship in results from both methods, speaking to their validly. The results, though, did bring into question the original research done by Higgins, as there were no ties found between specific internal discrepancies and unique emotional discomforts. One of the researchers in this study wrote “Overall, these findings raise significant concerns about the relevance of self-discrepancies as measured by the SQ and ARL and fail to support the main contentions of self-discrepancy theory”.

“Self-discrepancy: Long-term test–retest reliability and test–criterion predictive validity”, published in 2016, tested the long-term validity of self-discrepancy theory. Researchers found evidence to support the long-term validity of the self-discrepancy personality construct along with anxiety and depression having a direct relationship with internal discrepancies.

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.