Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

How our beliefs alter our ability to change our emotions

How our beliefs alter our ability to change our emotions

Following on from the last post "Why we make ourselves feel worse" where I looked at why we make our feelings worse or up-regulate our negative feelings, today I am going to look at some recent evidence to show that our cultural beliefs change our ability to change (up and down regulate) our emotions.

It is widely accepted that people from the east have a different sets of beliefs or logic systems than those in the west. This makes comparisons of such cultures an easy target for researchers, especially given that there are enormous amounts of research data about those differences. The research not only chronicles the logic/belief system or dialectical differences between east and west but has also found that there are significant emotional differences. For example people from east asian cultures tend to report lower levels of self-esteem than people in the west. A whole raft of research has show that Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans report lower life satisfaction, more negative affect (e.g., guilt and shame), and greater anxiety, depression, and pessimism than do western cultural groups. Judgments of happiness and well-being are also lower among individuals in many East Asian countries than in Western nations. Likewise, within various multicultural societies, such as the UK and the US, East Asian minority groups report lower self-esteem, poorer life satisfaction, and greater anxiety and depression than do caucasians and other racial/ethnic groups.

Part of this difference at least is put down to the more collectivistic view of the east where the unity of the group is seen to be more important than any one individual. This situation is almost the opposite in the west, where individual freedom is more important than loyalty to any particular group. Not only that but in the west positive self-regard is a very strong part of the culture, making it highly valued, and one of the aims of many family systems in the home, work and educational systems.

Given the primacy of being happy and of pleasure in the west or what is known as hedonic focus and the primacy of duty, selflessness, service and unity in the east, it is may not be surprising that these broadly different cultures place different levels of importance and therefore expertise in regulating emotions.

A study published this week found that easterners are less motivated to engage in hedonic emotion regulation that westerners. In other words people in the west are much more likely to engage in up-regulation (boosting) of positive emotion and down-regulation (reduction) of negative emotion. Indeed there is evidence that easterners are just much less likely to engage in emotion regulation at all compared to their western counterparts.

The study also found that westerners tend to be able to reduce negative emotions far quicker than easterners and this isn't just about practice. The study found that the main factor are the beliefs of the individual. If your set of beliefs include the fact that you matter less than the group, that emotions have little importance compared to thought, you are much less likely to engage in or understand (at an emotional level) the emotions you are having, how they are connected, how they differ, their associations etc. (emotional literacy) than if you live in a world with beliefs about the importance of being happy for example.

However the story doesn't end there. Our ability to regulate our emotions also appear to be connected to our cultural beliefs about ambiguity and uncertainty, which I will explore in my next blog. The outcomes of which may surprise you, it did me.

There is very strong evidence that our ability to cope and deal with our emotions goes a lot deeper than cultural beliefs. Personal beliefs have been shown to make an impact too. i will look at this in later blogs. 

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References

Crocker, J., Major, B., & Steele, C. (1998). Social stigma. In D. Gilbert & S. Fiske (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 504- 553). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995). Cross-cultural correlates of life satis- faction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 653-663.

Diener, E., Suh, E., Smith, H., & Shao, L. (1995). National differences in reported subjective well-being: Why do they occur? Social Indica- tors Research, 34, 7-32.
Heine, S., & Lehman, D. (1997a). The cultural construction of self- enhancement: An examination of group-serving biases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1268-1283.

Kitayama, S., Markus, H., & Kurokawa, M. (2000). Culture, emotion, and well-being: Good feelings in Japan and the United States. Cog- nition and Emotion, 14, 93-124.

Kitayama, S., Markus, H., Matsumoto, H., & Norasakkunkit, V. (1997). Individual and collective processes in the construction of the self: Self-enhancement in the United States and self-criticism in Japan. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1245-1267.

Lee, Y., & Seligman, M. E. (1997). Are Americans more optimistic than Chinese? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 32-40.

Spencer-Rodgers, J., et al (2004) Dialectical Self-Esteem and East-West Differences in Psychological Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology bulletin. Vol. 30 No. 11, November 2004 1416-1432 DOI: 10.1177/0146167204264243

Miyamoto, Y., Ma, X., & Petermann, A. G. (2014) Cultural differences in hedonic emotion regulation after a negative event. Emotion, Apr 7 , 2014, doi: 10.1037/a0036257

 

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Why we make ourselves feel worse.

Why we make ourselves feel worse.

It is usually expected that as human beings we all want to feel positive and would prefer to avoid negative feelings. There is evidence to show that in the west at least, people do tend to prefer to up-regulate positive emotions, and we also tend to do things that down-regulate negative emotions. The most common ways of doing this tend to be by the use of devices such as listening to music that makes us happy, doing nice things, being with friends, having treats, having a bath, meditation, relaxing etc to create and hold onto positive feelings and negate negative feelings. This is called hedonic emotion regulation or doing things to increase pleasure and reduce negative emotions. It makes sense and why wouldn't anyone want to do this?

Well as it turns out there are times when we actually down-regulate or dampen positive emotions and up-regulate or increase our negative emotions. for example researchers have found that people with low self-esteem tend to find themselves worrying about being too positive or happy. This can often be accompanied by thoughts such as, 'if I get too happy someone will ruin it all and i'll be even worse off'.

It is often the same when we are feeling down. We can also down-regulate emotions out of feelings of guilt, like finding yourself laughing whilst grieving for example or dampening positive emotions around someone who is depressed or grieving.
It is common for therapeutic clients to up-regulate negative emotions when they are with their therapist. I have watched clients park their car, cross the road and enter the building and wait in reception looking fine, until they see me, then suddenly drop their shoulders and start crying. Another scenario is when playing the social game 'ain't it awful' This is where two or more people do the 'did you see the news last night about x or y disaster - ain't it awful' and actively increase the negative feelings whilst engaging in this type of conversation and then snapping out of it as they walk away.

People who are trying to prove a point about how badly they have been treated frequently up-regulate the negative emotions in front of the people they blame for their misfortune. Any parent of a teenager will recognise that one.

It has also been discovered that we often down-regulate or dampen positive emotions when we are about to meet and interact with strangers, especially in group situations. So if you enter a meeting room with people you don't know too well you are quite likely to reduce 'overly' positive emotions before you do so. We also tend to reduce positive emotions just before we have to engage in any confrontational engagement.

In my next post I will have a look at how cultural differences in our beliefs about emotion significantly alters the way we go about regulating or changing our feelings and also some recent surprising findings about which cultures find it harder to learn how to regulate or change things like anxiety or low feelings.

 

 


References

Gross, J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299.

Parrott, W. (1993). Beyond hedonism: Motives for inhibiting good moods and for maintaining bad moods. In D. Wegner (Ed.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 278-305). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Tamir, M. (2009). What do people want to feel and why?: Pleasure and utility in emotion regulation. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 101-105.

Wood, J., Heimpel, S., & Michela, J. (2003). Savoring versus dampening: Self-esteem differences in regulating positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 566-580.

 

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The Key to a Happy Marriage lies ... with the wife.

The Key to a Happy Marriage lies ... with the wife.

One of the factors which helps us have successful interpersonal and social relationships is the ability to regulate our own emotions. For example if someone we like does something we don't like quite often we will just gloss over the incident. The same applies, but in a slightly different way, if the boss does something we don't like, we might mutter about it but we 'bite our tongue' and get on with it. If however we have reached the end of our tether we might just let it all go and have an angry outburst. There are some obvious career limiting aspects about this last option.


In a study just published in the journal Emotion, researchers from Stanford University found that the secret to martial satisfaction lay in the ability of the couple to be able to recover effectively and quickly from conflict or "hot button" incidents. The quicker and more fully the couple are able to recover from such incidents, and not hold on to them, the greater the levels of satisfaction the couple tend feel about the relationship.

However the research goes further.

They discovered that the key to a satisfying relationship lies with the wife. If the wife is able to up-regulate positive emotions and down-regulate negative emotions (see this article for an explanation of up and down regulation) then there is a much higher chance of the relationship being happier. The researchers found that wives who calmed down quickly also tended to be able to employ constructive communication strategies. Such strategies include behaviours like clearly expressing her feelings and suggesting solutions and compromises to the problem at hand. This contrasts with destructive communication strategies, such as criticizing, blaming and holding on to hurt. Constructive communication is more likely to result in conflict resolution, thereby positively impacting marital satisfaction.

Why exactly it is the wife that holds the key to the emotional health of the relationship is open to speculation.

The point for me is that if both members of the marriage work together to actively deal with conflicts, as opposed to blaming, criticising or just avoiding the issue, both are likely to have a happier and more satisfying relationship.

It would appear, for whatever reason, a calm wife equals a calm marriage which in turn is more likely to equal a satisfying marriage. 

 

Reference

Bloch, L., Haase, C. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2014) Emotion regulation predicts marital satisfaction: More than a wives' tale. Emotion, Vol 14(1), Feb 2014, 130-144. doi: 10.1037/a0034272

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