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The feeling and expression of emotion are some of the most basic human experiences. This process is not as simple as it may seem because not every emotion is appropriate for every situation. Therefore, the person, whether or not they are aware of it, will initiate the phenomenon of emotion regulation. Emotion regulation is the process through which an individual filters their emotions in order to control how they feel and, consequently, communicate these feelings. Emotion regulation is highly dependent on both the culture one lives in and the specific social context of the situation. Therefore, emotion regulation is an integral part of social tradition and emotional intelligence.
The idea that one has the ability to control what and how they experience emotion is a rather new idea in the field of psychology. Gross (1998, p., 275) defines the idea as “…the process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions.” Therefore, whether it be on a conscious or unconscious level, individuals have the ability to control their emotions and react only in ways they deem to be appropriate in a specific social setting. From this definition, it may seem logical to assume that an individual would only use emotion regulation to increase positive emotions. However, this is not the case and there are some situations in which it is more beneficial to experience negative emotions like sadness or anger. For example, in preparing for an argument with another person, it would not help to feel happy prior to the interaction. Instead, a person may engage in behavior or thinking that would make them feel angry. Aside from positive and negative emotions, research has also shown that a person prefers to feel neutral emotion in the presence of a stranger. A neutral emotional state is desired so as to protect oneself from judgments that coincide with acting overly emotional from the stranger. (Baumeister, 2008)
There have been differing responses to the idea of emotion regulation; some groups believe that it results in negative consequences, while others insist that it is beneficial. Whether emotion regulation has positive or negative consequences may be dependent on cultural factors. For example, prior research has shown that generally, European resist suppression of their emotions, whereas Asian women are more likely to suppress their negative emotions (Butler, Tiane, & Gross, 2007). This may be due to differing values in these two cultures. Europe and the western world are more centered on the importance of independence. As a result, it would be more acceptable for a person to assert themselves in the East, where societies are more collective. (Butler et al., 2007)
Psychologists previously assumed that emotion regulation was controlled by the person’s desire accentuate positive moods and diminish negative moods. (Baumesiter et al., 2008) However, in recent years, many studies have proven that it is the social context that controls the mood experienced. Erber and Erber, in their paper The Self Regulation of Moods: Second Thoughts on the Importance of Happiness in Everyday Life, discuss the degree to which people change their mood according to social context. They cite a variety of their previous studies that support their claim, including one study titled the “Coolness Effect.” In this study performed by Erber, Wegner, and Therriault (1996), participants first listened to either happy or depressing music, and were then told that they would later work on a task either with a stranger or alone. Next, the participants were asked to indicate what kind of newspaper article they would rather read, either a comical or a depressing article. The results of the study show that when participants thought they were going to complete a task alone they chose newspaper articles that were attached to the same mood as the music they were listening to; they wanted to maintain their current state. However, participants that had been assigned to the “stranger” group choose articles that would neutralize their mood; for example, people that had listened to happy music wanted to read a depressing article. These results confirm the idea that emotion regulation occurs on the basis of social context instead of pleasantness of emotion (Erber & Erber, 2000).
As evidence suggests, the ability to regulate one’s emotions could determine the amount or quality of ones relationships and social interactions. In line with this notion, Lopes, Salovey, Beers, and Cote (2005) suggest that individuals able to regulate their emotions should have a higher level of emotional intelligence, or understanding of their own and other’s emotions. Consequently, they develop a better understanding of how other people might feel in various situations, which presumably would result in well-developed interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Therefore, such individuals would be considered better friends than individuals with a lower understanding of emotion regulation. (Lopes et al., 2005)
Emotion regulation occurs in differing levels in all individuals and situations. A higher amount of emotional intelligence allows for an effective regulation of emotions. Therefore, a better understanding of how one and others are feeling directly affects the quality of relationships a person may have.
Baumeister, R. and B. Bushman. (2008). Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont California : Thomson Wadsworth.
Butler, E.., T. Lee, & J. Gross. (2007). Emotion Regulation and Culture: Are There Social Consequences of Emotion Suppression Culture-Specific? Emotion, 7(1), 30-48.
Erber, R. & M. Erber. (2000). The Self-Regulation of Moods: Second Thoughts on the Importance of Happiness in Everyday Life. Psychological Inquiry, 11(3), 142-148.
Erber, R., D. M. Wegner, & N. Therriault. (1996). On Being Cool and Collected: Mood Regulation in Anticipation of Social Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 757-766.
Gross, J. (1998). The Emerging Field of Emotion Regulation: An Integrative Review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271-299.
Lopes, P., P. Salovey, M. Beers, & S. Cote. (2005). Emotion Regulation Abilities and the Quality of Social Interaction. Emotion, 5(1), 113-118.