Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Well-being linked with when and how people manage emotions

Public Release: 2-Nov-2016
Well-being linked with when and how people manage emotions
Association for Psychological Science

Reframing how we think about a situation is a common strategy for managing our emotions, but a new study suggests that using this reappraisal strategy in situations we actually have control over may be associated with lower well-being. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Our results caution against a 'one strategy fits all' approach, which may be tempting to recommend based on many previous findings regarding reappraisal as a strategy for regulating emotion," says psychological scientist Peter Koval of Australian Catholic University. "Simply using any given emotion regulation strategy more (or less) in all situations may not lead to the best outcomes--instead, contextually-appropriate emotion regulation may be healthier."


Results showed that participants successfully complied with the survey instructions, answering about 87% of the prompts delivered, on average. The researchers found no reliable associations between participants' well-being and their overall use of reappraisal as a means of regulating emotion in daily life, in line with the notion that reappraisal is not a one-size-fits-all strategy.

The researchers did find, however, that participants who reported higher levels of depression, anxiety, stress, neuroticism, and social anxiety were more likely to use reappraisal in response to situations they perceived as controllable, whereas participants who reported higher well-being tended to use reappraisal more in situations they felt they had little control over.

"We found that people with higher well-being increased their use of reappraisal as contexts became less controllable, whereas individuals with lower well-being showed the opposite pattern," Koval and colleagues explain in their paper.

Given that the study measured reappraisal use in daily life over a single week and assessed well-being on just a one occasion, the results do not tell us whether more situationally-appropriate use of reappraisal leads to greater well-being, or vice versa. Despite this, the researchers argue that the findings suggest that context--in this case, how much control an individual believes he or she has over situations--does make a difference in the outcomes of emotion-regulation strategies.

"When a situation can be directly changed, reappraisal may undermine the adaptive function of emotions in motivating action," the researchers write.


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