Home Mind & Brain Personal Goals Define Emotion Regulation Success, Finds New Study

Personal Goals Define Emotion Regulation Success, Finds New Study

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A recent study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, highlights the complex nature of emotion regulation success in everyday life. Their findings challenge the traditional views by emphasising the role of individual goals and motives in determining successful emotion regulation.

Historically, emotion regulation has been assessed through laboratory settings where participants are given specific emotional goals to achieve. But these controlled environments do not accurately reflect the myriad of situations people encounter in their daily lives. The study shifts the focus towards understanding how individuals regulate their emotions in real-world settings, considering personal goals and motives rather than generic positive or negative outcomes.

Emotion regulation involves influencing one’s emotional experiences, expressions, and physiological responses. Traditionally, success in emotion regulation has been equated with increasing positive emotions and decreasing negative ones. But this approach overlooks the personal and situational differences in emotional goals. For example, some people may aim to feel calm rather than excited, while others might seek to feel a certain level of sadness or anger to achieve specific outcomes, such as empathising with a friend or motivating oneself for a task.

The study defines emotion regulation success as achieving one’s emotional goals, which can vary widely among individuals. This approach recognises that what might be considered successful regulation for one person could be different for another based on their unique goals and motives.

The study underscores the significant role of cultural background and age in shaping emotional goals. For instance, European Americans tend to prefer high-arousal positive emotions like excitement, while Asians and Asian Americans often seek low-arousal positive emotions like calmness. Older adults, on the other hand, might aim for low-arousal positive states due to their taxing nature on high-arousal states. These variations illustrate why a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring emotion regulation success is inadequate.

A critical distinction made in the study is between unsuccessful regulation and maladaptive regulation. Unsuccessful regulation occurs when individuals fail to meet their emotional goals, whereas maladaptive regulation refers to achieving goals that might not be beneficial overall. For example, someone might successfully use anger to win an argument, but this could have negative social consequences, classifying the goal as maladaptive.

To measure emotion regulation success accurately, the study suggests incorporating self-reports, peer reports, and physiological measures. Self-reports can provide direct insight into whether individuals feel they have achieved their emotional goals. However, these can be complemented by peer reports and behavioural observations to mitigate biases and enhance reliability. Advanced methodologies like ambulatory assessment, which involves real-time data collection in natural settings, offer a more precise evaluation of emotion regulation.

Understanding emotion regulation success has profound implications for mental health. The study’s framework can help identify whether individuals with affective disorders, like depression, are setting adaptive emotional goals or if they are regulating their emotions in ways that may perpetuate their condition. Additionally, considering emotion regulation goals can lead to more culturally sensitive therapeutic practices, recognising that emotional goals and expressions vary significantly across different cultures.

The study calls for future research to explore emotion regulation success using novel statistical methods and dynamic measures of emotional experience. By focusing on individual goals, researchers can gain deeper insights into how people navigate their emotional landscapes in daily life.

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