A data-driven typology of emotion regulation profiles
Emotion (In Press)
Typologies organize knowledge and advance theory for many scientific disciplines, including more recently in psychological science. However, no typology exists to categorize use of emotion regulation strategies. This is surprising given emotion regulation skills are used daily and are robustly linked with mental health symptoms. We attempted to identify and validate a working typology of emotion regulation across six samples (Total N = 1492, from multiple populations) by using several computational techniques. We uncovered evidence for three types of regulators: an infrequently regulating type (Lo), a frequently regulating type (Hi), and a third type (Mix) that selectively titrates strategy usage. Individuals in the Mix type exhibited the most adaptive mental health symptoms. These differences were stable over time and across different samples. These results are important for basic understanding of emotion regulation and for informing future interventions aimed at improving mental health.
You changed my mind: Immediate and enduring impacts of social emotion regulation
As social creatures, our relationships with other people have tremendous downstream impacts on health and wellbeing. However, we still know surprisingly little about how our social interactions regulate how we think and feel through life’s challenges. Getting help from other people to change how one thinks about emotional events – known as “social reappraisal” – can be more effective in down-regulating negative affect than reappraising on one’s own, but it is unknown whether this regulatory boost from social support persists when people face the same events alone in the future. In a pre-registered study of 120 young adults (N = 60 same-gender dyads, gender split sample) involving in-lab emotion regulation tasks and a follow-up task online approximately 1 day later, we found that participants responded less negatively to aversive images that were socially regulated (i.e., reappraised with the help of a friend) both immediately and over time, as compared to images that had been previously solo regulated (i.e., reappraised on one’s own) or not regulated (i.e., passively viewed). Interestingly, the regulatory boost from social support observed both in the lab and at follow-up was driven by women dyads. This work highlights one important mechanism explaining how support from others can facilitate emotional wellbeing: by changing peoples’ lasting impressions of distressing events, interactions with others can help prepare them to cope with future exposure to those events on their own, underscoring how valuable others’ perspectives can be when navigating ongoing emotional stressors.
Peer facilitation of emotion regulation in adolescence
Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (2023)
Emotion regulation is particularly important for adolescents as they undergo normative developmental changes in affective systems and experience heightened risk for psychopathology. Despite a high need for emotion regulation during adolescence, commonly studied emotion regulation strategies like cognitive reappraisal are less beneficial for adolescents than adults because they rely on neural regions that are still developing during this period (i.e., lateral prefrontal cortex). However, adolescence is also marked by increased valuation of peer relationships and sensitivity to social information and cues. In the present review, we synthesize research examining emotion regulation and peer influence across development to suggest that sensitivity to peers during adolescence could be leveraged to improve emotion regulation for this population. We first discuss developmental trends related to emotion regulation at the level of behavior and brain in adolescents, using cognitive reappraisal as an exemplar emotion regulation strategy. Next, we discuss social influences on adolescent brain development, describing caregiver influence and increasing susceptibility to peer influence, to describe how adolescent sensitivity to social inputs represents both a window of vulnerability and opportunity. Finally, we conclude by describing the promise of social (i.e., peer-based) interventions for enhancing emotion regulation in adolescence.
One size does not fit all: Decomposing the implementation and differential benefits of social emotion regulation strategies.
Although considerable research has demonstrated the importance of social relationships for well-being, limited work has assessed how people help regulate each other’s emotions, a process called social emotion regulation. The present research utilized two experiments in 2020 (N₁ = 50, N₂ = 268) where people shared and responded to personal experiences to examine: (a) the kinds of regulatory support people offered others; (b) how people felt receiving different types of social feedback about their experiences; and (c) whether the support they offered others shaped how they felt receiving different feedback. When providing feedback to a confederate, participants varied in whether they chose to use validation, which affirms someone’s feelings, or one of three types of social reappraisals, which help others change how they think about an emotional experience (i.e., temporal distancing: emphasizing how things change over time; positive focus: focusing on the bright side; and perspective taking: considering others’ perspectives). Across studies, when participants received feedback about their own experiences, validation was the most comforting and preferred feedback. In Study 2, temporal distancing emerged as the most comforting, helpful, and preferable type of social reappraisal and was the only reappraisal perceived as no less helpful than validation. Additionally, participants who provided social reappraisal to the confederate benefited most from receiving this type of support from others. Together, these results highlight the variability in how people use social emotion regulation strategies to support others and demonstrate how such differences in implementation, as well as individual differences in those receiving support, can shape social regulatory outcomes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
Having more virtual interaction partners during COVID-19 physical distancing measures may benefit mental health.
Scientific Reports (2021)
Social interactions play an extremely important role in maintaining health and well‑being. The COVID‑19 pandemic and associated physical distancing measures, however, restricted the number of people one could physically interact with on a regular basis. A large percentage of social interactions moved online, resulting in reports of “Zoom fatigue,” or exhaustion from virtual interactions. These reports focused on how online communication differs from in‑person communication, but it is possible that when in‑person interactions are restricted, virtual interactions may benefit mental health overall. In a survey conducted near the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic (N2020 = 230), we found that having a greater number of virtual interaction partners was associated with better mental health. This relationship was statistically mediated by decreased loneliness and increased perceptions of social support. We replicated these findings during the pandemic 1 year later (N2021 = 256) and found that these effects held even after controlling for the amount of time people spent interacting online. Convergent with previous literature on social interactions, these findings suggest that virtual interactions may benefit overall mental health, particularly during physical distancing and other circumstances where opportunities to interact in‑person with different people are limited.
The comfort in touch: Immediate and lasting effects of handholding on emotional experiences.
PLOS ONE (2021)
Consoling touch is a powerful form of social support that has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the experience of physical pain. However, it remains unknown whether touch reduces emotional pain in the same way that it reduces physical pain. The present research sought to understand how handholding with a romantic partner shapes experiences of emotional pain and comfort during emotional recollection, as well as how it shapes lasting emotional pain associated with emotional experiences. Participants recalled emotionally painful memories or neutral memories with their partners, while holding their partner’s hand or holding a squeeze-ball. They additionally completed a follow-up survey to report how much emotional pain they associated with the emotional experiences after recalling them in the lab with their partners. Although consoling touch did not reduce emotional pain during the task, consoling touch increased feelings of comfort. Moreover, participants later recalled emotional memories that were paired with touch as being less emotionally painful than those that were not paired with touch. These findings suggest that touch does not decrease the immediate experience of emotional pain and may instead support adaptive processing of emotional experiences over time.
With a little help from my friends: Selective social potentiation of emotion regulation.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2020)
Decades of research has pointed to emotion regulation (ER) as a critical ingredient for health, well-being, and social functioning. However, the vast majority of this research has examined emotion regulation in a social vacuum, despite the fact that in everyday life individuals frequently regulate their emotions with help from other people. The present collection of pre-registered studies examined whether social help increases the efficacy of reappraisal, a widely-studied ER strategy that involves changing how one thinks about emotional stimuli. In Study 1 (N = 40 friend pairs), we compared the efficacy of reinterpreting the content of negative stimuli alone (independent ER) to listening to a friend reinterpret the stimuli (social ER). We found that social ER was more effective than independent ER, and that the efficacy of these strategies was correlated within individuals. In Studies 2 and 3, we replicated effects from Study 1, and additionally tested alternate explanations for our findings. In Study 2 (N = 40 individuals), we ruled out the possibility that social ER was more effective than independent ER due to a difference in the quality of reinterpretations, and in Study 3 (N = 40 friend pairs), we found that social help did not attenuate negative affect in the absence of reappraisal. In sum, we found that social help selectively potentiates the efficacy of reappraisal, and that this effect was not merely the outcome of social buffering. Together, these results provide insight into how social relationships can directly lend a hand in implementing ER strategies.
Why don’t you like me: The role of the mentalizing network in social rejection.
The Neural Basis of Mentalizing - A Social-Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Perspective (M. Gilead & K.N. Ochsner) (2020)
The pain of rejection is often tied to the way that we interpret how another person thinks or feels about us. In this review, we explore evidence from the current literature to examine the role of mentalizing, the process by which we think about and understand someone else’s thoughts and feelings, in the experience of social rejection. We first turn to meta-analyses investigating the neural bases of social rejection to examine whether parts of the mentalizing network are also active during the experience of rejection (Cacioppo et al., 2013; Vijayakumar, Cheng, & Pfeifer, 2017). Next, we review some evidence suggesting that developmental changes in mentalizing, such as those during early childhood and adolescence, may be associated with changes in sensitivity to rejection (e.g. Somerville, 2013; Rochat, 2003). Then, we examine the extent to which individuals who demonstrate compromised mentalizing, such as those with schizophrenia or autism, may exhibit reduced sensitivity to rejection (e.g. Bauminger & Kasari, 2000; Gradin et al., 2012). Finally, we summarize some future directions building on the possibility of a link between mentalizing and the experience of social rejection. The available evidence seems to support a role of the mentalizing network in feeling the pain of social rejection, such that understanding another person’s mental state may be what allows us to understand and process rejection.
Performance and belief-based emotion regulation capacity and tendency: Mapping links with cognitive flexibility and perceived stress.
Cognitive reappraisal is among the most effective and well-studied emotion regulation strategies humans have at their disposal. Here, in 250 healthy adults across 2 preregistered studies, we examined whether reappraisal capacity (the ability to reappraise) and tendency (the propensity to reappraise) differentially relate to perceived stress. We also investigated whether cognitive flexibility, a skill thought to support reappraisal, accounted for associations between reappraisal capacity and tendency and perceived stress but found no evidence for this hypothesis. Both Studies 1 and 2 robustly showed that reappraisal tendency was associated with perceived stress, whereas a significant relationship between reappraisal capacity and perceived stress was only observed in Study 2. Further, Study 2 suggested that self-reported beliefs about one's emotion regulation capacity and tendency were predictive of wellbeing, whereas no such associations were observed with performance-based assessments of capacity and tendency. These data suggest that self-reported perceptions of reappraisal skills may be more predictive of wellbeing than actual reappraisal skills. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
It’s okay to be angry: A functionalist perspective of the dangers of over-regulating anger.
Special issue on emotion regulation for Philosophical Topics (2019)
Recently, the view that anger is bad, even wrong, to feel and express has gained popularity. Philosophers like Martha Nussbaum and Derk Pereboom posit that anger is fundamentally tied to a desire for retribution (i.e. getting even for past events), which they argue is immoral, counterproductive, and irrational. Thus, they argue, we should try our best to stop ourselves from feeling and expressing anger whenever it arises. I argue that anger is not inherently retributive, and that feeling and expressing anger are sometimes the most adaptive response to unfairness in one’s environment. I draw on robust psychological literature to characterize the dangers of over-regulating anger in terms of the practical, psychological, and humanitarian costs associated with not feeling and expressing anger. In the appropriate contexts, anger is crucial to prepare people to communicate disapproval, motivate necessary confrontation, and change wrongdoers’ harmful behaviors. Thus, the functions of anger are not focused on getting even for past events, but rather on protecting individuals from future harm. Importantly, the over-regulation of anger is likely to cause the most harm to individuals and communities that experience routine unfairness, thereby reinforcing social injustices. By adopting a functionalist perspective of emotions, we can shift our focus away from policing experiences of anger and towards enhancing its functional qualities through thoughtful reflection on the sources of peoples’ anger and resolutions for that anger.