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 Affect Regulation?

Introduction

Affect regulation and “affect regulation theory” are important concepts in psychiatry and psychology and in close relation with emotion regulation.

Refer to Affect Labelling.

Background

However, the latter is a reflection of an individual’s mood status rather than their affect.

Affect regulation is the actual performance one can demonstrate in a difficult situation regardless of what their mood or emotions are. It is tightly related to the quality of executive and cognitive functions and that is what distinguishes this concept from emotion regulation.

One can have a low emotional control but a high level of control on his or her affect, and therefore, demonstrate a normal interpersonal functioning as a result of intact cognition.

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.