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Why do some people, or particular groups of people experience more negative emotions than others? What is the role of social context in the mediation and shaping our emotions and their expression? Can people learn to regulate their emotions, and under what conditions is emotion regulation more or less adaptive? Focusing on the regulation of emotions and their social-cultural as well as bio-psychological preconditions these issues are given a multidisciplinary perspective in this new collection
Divided into four parts, the essays in Part I highlight some theoretical and foundational concerns arising from the adoption of a bio-cultural perspective of emotion regulation. In the opening contribution Arvid Kappas focuses on challenging the assumption that emotion and emotion regulation are separate, dissociable concepts. He argues that emotion and emotion regulation ought to be considered as part of the same process. Any viable theory of emotion therefore has to include a theory of emotion regulation. Whilst popular theories, like Ekman's neuro-cultural theory and some recent appraisal theories allude to interpersonal regulation in the form of display rules they do not go as far as embedding them within the boundaries of their emotion theories and insist on separating emotion and emotion regulation. Instead, Kappas appeals for the development of a truly multilevel theory of emotion .
Iris B Mauss, Silvia Bunge and James Gross' essay is concerned with the way in which socio-cultural contexts affect individuals' emotional regulation. Their analysis rests on the fact that most prior research on emotion regulation has focused on deliberate or effortful forms of emotion regulation rather than automatic forms of regulation. The authors argue that from a socio-cultural point of view this is a cause for concern, since they believe that socio-cultural factors may permeate emotion regulation, through automatic processes. They begin by distinguishing two types of emotion regulation: response-focused, which takes place after the emotion is initiated and antecedent-focused regulation, which takes place early in the emotional process and intervenes before the emotion is fully initiated. They then review how these two types of regulation affect an individual's emotional responses and welfare. . They suggest that automatic emotion regulation is shaped by sociocultural contexts that furnish the agent with implicit norms regarding what is appropriate or normal behavior, and automatized practices that can be either situationally or emotionally cued. One of the significant outcomes of the studies reviewed is that antecedent-focused regulation seems to be relatively adaptive, which suggests a mechanism for adaptive, socioculturally mediated emotion regulation whilst response-focused automatic regulation appears to be comparatively maladaptive.
Claire Hofer and Nancy Eisenberg offer a summary of the biological bases of effortful control and self-regulation, alongside with highlighting environmental and cultural influences on emotion related control, focusing on socialization processes. Whilst arguing that what is required is more systematic cultural research, the investigation of as yet unrepresented cultures and a need to address the concept of emotion regulation itself in different cultures, nevertheless there are is a degree of observed universality in the processes implicated in the influence of socialization on emotion-related regulation, notwithstanding cross-cultural distinctions in socialization beliefs and practices. .
Part II shifts the focus from the individual to interactional and developmental processes in emotion regulation. Gislea Trommsdorff and Fred Rothbaum attempt to understand cultural differences in emotional regulation by examining differences in the development of the self. They assume that emotion regulation is related to an individual's self-construal and goals. Their comprehensive review integrates evidence on culture-specific construals of the self as well as cultural distinctions in goal orientation. The authors maintain that these distinctive conceptions of the self and one's goals strongly influence the process and outcomes of emotion regulation. In Western societies, they argue, the most important goal for the development of emotion regulation is typically to promote one's autonomy and affirm positive views of the self. The goal of self-regulation in non-Western cultures is to adapt to social expectations and obligations by accommodating the individual self and protecting the collective self. To support their argument they offer evidence highlighting cultural diversity in parenting and socialization practices. They conclude by arguing that any rigorous theory of emotion regulation needs to be culturally enlightened.
Philip Shaver, Mario Mikulincer and David Chun adopt an attachment theoretical approach to emotions. Originally developed by Bowlby to refer to the affective bond between infant and primary caregiver, attachment theory has been used to offer an analysis of affective attachment in adults, and in analyzing the influence of different attachment styles on emotion regulation. The authors argue that there is evidence for a link between attachment related differences in emotion regulation and prosocial behavior. Attachment security and the ability to regulate emotions is associated with a variety of prosocial feelings and caregiving behaviors, including compassion, altruism and tolerance for out-group members. Attachment insecurity, on the other hand, leads to self-focused concern that affects the individual's capacity for empathic perception of the needs of others, and reduces the probability of prosocial conduct. .
Maria von Salish offers a comprehensive summary of how emotion regulation develops through childhood and adolescence and the development of interindividual differences. She adopts a process model for her investigation and splits her analysis into four main themes (1) the fundamental changes in emotional development in childhood and adolescence (2) the multidimensional development of emotion regulation (3) the transfer from interpersonal to intrapersonal emotion regulation and, (4) the differential development of emotion regulation. Her analysis of the available evidence culminates in a novel framework, her transactional model of emotional development, which organizes different lines of research in a cohesive and comprehensive way and enables her to take a standpoint that can examine her four themes from a single perspective.
In Part III the contributors discuss potential problems and difficulties arising from social expectations and individual needs related to emotion regulation. Pamela Cole, Tracy Dennis, Sarah E Martin, and Sarah E Hall attempt to portray the real world difficulties that children can present to illustrate how it is not emotion per se but difficulties in emotion regulation that compromises psychological health. and investigate the relationship between emotion and development of psychological aptitude and psychopathology. The authors indentify four particular dimensions, inferred from behavioral observations, showing the qualities of regulation that distinguish children at clear clinical risk from those developing normally. Although they do not intend their list to be exhaustive, it is offered as an example of how hypotheses concerning emotion regulation can illuminate several important factors in the development and maintenance of psychopathology.
Pierre Philippot, Aurore Neumann and Nathalie Vrielynck argue that the way people think about their emotions determines how they regulate them, in particular they focus on the level of specificity at which emotions are cognitively processed. Specificity refers to the elicitation of detailed and precise information about particular, well defined emotional episodes lasting less than twenty four hours in contrast to general emotional information processing, involving the activation of generic data. The authors offer an overview of research which suggests that overgenerality bias is a feature of a number of emotional disorders Following their summary they challenge the validity of the naïve theory claim that specifying one's (negative) experience results in deleterious effects for emotion regulation. The authors' own laboratory studies indicate that, in some conditions, in fact constraining people to process emotional information specifically yields beneficial outcomes. As compared to over generalizing, specifying emotional information resulted in less intense emotional feelings and psychological arousal, in increased sense of self-efficacy and in more adapted behavior and performance. The authors then conclude by outlining the implications of their conclusions for clinical management of emotional disorders and psychopathology.
Martin Peper and Roland Vauth examine problems in defining and assessing socio-emotional competencies that encompass diverse functional domains related to emotion regulation, for example emotional self-awareness, perception of the affective state of others, and emotional coping strategies. The authors begin with an examination of the basic constructs and functional components of emotions and examine the structure and paradigmatic definitions of socio-emotional competencies. They then offer a succinct overview of the assessment of emotion regulation via psychometric tests followed by a considered critical analysis of the methodological issues involved. Adopting schizophrenia as a paradigmatic example the authors outline the characteristic deficiencies in emotional processing and develop a rehabilitation program arising from a novel neuropsychological model of emotion regulation, concentrating on the acquisition and development of high-level socio-emotional competencies. .
Leslie Greenberg and Marie Vandekerckhove focus on a psychotherapeutic perspective on emotion regulation, examining the role of the relationship between the therapist and her client in psychotherapy. Adopting Greenberg's emotion-focused therapy approach the authors argue that the relationship benefits the client by offering a non-threatening, safe relationship built on trust within which specific modes of emotional processing can be facilitated, and additionally the relationship offers a soothing, affect-attuned bond characterized by the therapist's empathetic attunement to affect, as well as acceptance and congruence. They conclude by offering evidence in support of a set of principles of emotional assessment and change, in particular their fundamental principle of emotional processing - the transforming of a maladaptive emotion by an adaptive emotion.
Finally, the papers in Part IV adopt the socio-cultural context as their primary object of investigation. It opens with Unni Wikan's essay on the issue of the effects of cross-cultural differences in the way emotions are regulated. Wikan, a social anthropologist, discusses this through the prism of honor killings, which she defines as "a murder carried out as a commission from the extended family, to restore honor after the family has been dishonored. As a rule, the basic cause is a rumor that any female family member has behaved in an immoral way." She focuses on offering a close analysis of a case history to explicate the mechanisms grounding the culture of honor killing, and examines how these are related to emotion regulation. She argues we need to address such questions as, if murder is defined as a wrongful killing, is an honor killing an act of murder? What precisely makes an honor killing wrong if it is an act of collective defense and a last resort to protect a family from public humiliation and shame being inflicted by one of its members? In particular, she argues we need to shed light on how the concept of honor is to be understood if we are to make any progress in responding to this particular form of violence against women.
In his contribution Paul Poder attempts to show how a particular social arena can differentially shape and regulate the emotions of those embedded within it. Specific social arenas, such as organizations, will call for distinct types of emotional regulation. For example, certain types of emotional experiences, such as anger, will be suppressed or subject to self-censorship. Poder in particular argues that anger is not acknowledged in the relationship between employee and managers and that these agents use different coping strategies to handle the emotion. He then argues that by viewing anger as integral to morality we can see that this politics of expression thwarts the potential restorative function of anger in the social interaction between the agents.
In the concluding contribution Charlotte Bloch focuses on the influence of emotional cultures on mood regulation. Arguing that the construal and management of experiences of flow (where the agent becomes fully immersed in what she is doing, through a feeling of energized engagement with and success in the performance of the particular activity) and stress are context sensitive. Bloch's claim is that the role played by emotional cultures, reflected in the adoption of different strategies in different emotional arena, such as the home, work or leisure environments, indicates that our moods are distilled and mediated through them and this aspect of our emotional lives ought not to be neglected.
A central issue that still needs to be addressed is the debate in psychology as to whether it is possible to experience pure (that is, unregulated) emotions, but evidence for emotion regulation is hard to come by. It is not clear how we are to measure emotion independently of emotion regulation. Another line of further empirical research that is needed is to fully explicate the distinction between emotion regulation and emotion reactivity. It is essential to have clearly stated conceptual formulations and operational definitions of emotion regulation that lead to clearly specified, testable predictions. The essays in this absorbing and accessible collection make a valuable contribution towards highlighting some of these issues and providing suggestions for further research, not least because the scope of the collection is genuinely multidisciplinary. The collection also offers insights into how social and cultural mechanisms can be utilized to regulate even the most primary biological and psychological aspects of human emotion It is highly recommended reading for anyone who has an interest in emotion research.
© 2009 Angela Florence Bird
Angela Florence Bird, Sheffield University