Some interesting if not bizarre research just published shows how we readily regulate our emotions by having unconscious goals. The researchers  examined people’s revulsion to pooing babies and found that women who wanted children (with no previous experience of pooing babies) were able to down regulate their emotional responses to poo better than women who had no wish to have children. They were also able to up regulate other emotions surrounding the yukky bits of childhood better than a control group.

We certainly find that people who really want to achieve something like public speaking or flying, tend to move faster through our processes tan those that are doing the course for some goal beyond the fear, for example, getting promoted or going on a particular holiday. If the holiday is important for the person learning to regulate their emotions they tend to find the process easier. However if the individual is learning to regulate their emotions because of the fear of the flight but doesn’t really want to go on the trip anyway this can take longer.


Shidlovski, D., & Hassin, R. (2011). When Pooping Babies Become More Appealing: The Effects of Nonconscious Goal Pursuit on Experienced Emotions Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797611417135

Posted in anxiety, Anxiety research, Emotion, emotion regulation, emotional resilience, Emotional Resilience Research, Fear, Fear of flying, overcome fear | Leave a comment

A really interesting study has been completed by a Ph.D. student who has just been awarded his doctorate – congratulations, Dr. Joshua Floro of the University of California.

For some time a number of theories have suggested that smoking / nicotine addiction may reduce peoples ability to regulate their own emotions and may, contrary to popular belief, increase anxiety levels in the smoker.

Dr. Floro conducted at longitudinal study of high school children in the states who smoked and looked at the correlations between smoking and a range of psychological disorders which it have been suggested are mediated by reduced or impaired ability for the individual to regulate their own emotions. He tracked 178 male and female high school students across a four year period and categorised them as either:

  1. Non-smokers (the control group),
  2. Infrequent smokers, and
  3. Light to moderate smokers*

He discovered that as an individuals smoking habits increased their ability to regulate the negative emotions of anger and sadness reduced significantly. There was also a trend found with anxiety that was just under the level of statistical significance. So not only is smoking injurious to one’s physical health it also affects our mental health and depresses one’s ability to regulate emotions like anger and sadness and also appears to have an effect on the ability to regulate anxiety. We don’t know whether this effect is permanent or temporary; in that if one gives up smoking does the ability to regulate our emotions return? Joshua I think you have a lifetime of work ahead of you.

There appears to be a growing body of evidence to suggest that as far as smoking is concerned it interferes with our ability to regulate or reduce the levels of anger, sadness and anxiety felt by people. I will leave the last word to Dr. Floro:

” …these smoking-related reductions in regulation of negative emotion may put adolescents at risk for developing … disorders such as conduct (behaviour) disorders or depression.”


*you may ask what happened to heavy smokers group. Given that these are High School students in the age range of 13 – 18 and smoking is forbidden at school and in most states you can’t legally buy tobacco until you are 18 and 19 in some states this may go some way to answering your question.


Floro, J.N. (2011) Reduced Regulation of Negative Emotion with Escalations in Smoking Behavior during High School: A Dose-Response Effect. Doctoral Thesis. University of California, Irvine. August 2011.

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Is humour a good strategy for coping with emotional events like anxiety and fear?

Are all types of humour equally effective methods of emotion regulation?

I was a police officer for many years before my academic career, and one of the things I always found striking with emergency service workers and later when I was doing research with disaster managers around the world, was their sense and recourse to humour, particularly in stressful situations. Occupations like the military, the police, fire and medical staff are renowned for their humour. This, most clinicians and researchers will tell you, is a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress and regulating their emotions and is a vital strategy in terms of emotional resilience.

However is the use of humour really an effective method for dealing with fear and anxiety and emotion regulation?

It would appear so, however not all forms of humour is effective.  An interesting study to be published later this year in the Journal Cognition & Emotion by colleagues at the Department of Psychology , Stanford University looked into the use of humour (or humor if you are American) as an emotion regulation strategy.

They found that positive or good natured humour has an automatic, what is called ‘down regulating effect’ on negative emotions. In other words, appropriate good natured positive humour, funny stories and jokes do all reduce anxiety and fear and is a viable emotion regulation strategy.

They also found that negative mean spirited humour, such as laughing at someone or disparaging jokes at another’s expense for example have no effect in helping people in coping with negative situations, in reducing anxiety and fear and cannot be considered to be effective strategies for emotion regulation.

So if you are stressed, get funny!


Samson, A.C., & Gross, J.J. (2011) Humour as emotion regulation: The differential consequences of negative versus positive humour. Cognition & Emotion (To be published August/Sept 2011)

Posted in anxiety, Anxiety research, Emotion, emotion regulation, emotional resilience, Emotional Resilience Research, Fear, humor, humour, overcome fear | Leave a comment

There is a fairly constant question / argument in the world of anxiety as to whether Psychotherapies or Cognitive Therapies like those we use on the Fear Course are better for dealing with the issue long term. This is also a question I am asked a lot by people. Here is an answer for SAD or Social Anxiety Disorder at least.

In a study just published* (July 2011), medical researchers from four university hospitals in Germany and the UK conducted a randomised controlled trial between the two types of therapy. They compared 254 patients who were randomly assigned to one of three groups for treatment:

  1. Cognitive Therapy,
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. A waiting list but no therapy as a control.

Each participant in the psychotherapy and cognitive therapy groups received 16 treatment sessions and the waiting list control only received one session with a therapist.

We measure success in terms of response rates. What we mean by that is that an individual responds positively to the treatment and by whatever measure (usually a recognised instrument or measure of anxiety), the individual experiences the symptoms reducing  in a significant way or disappearing.

The response rates after 20 weeks in this study were as follows:

  1. Cognitive Therapy – 65.8%
  2. Psychotherapy – 42.1%
  3. A waiting list but no therapy as a control – 7.3%

After a year the response rates were:

  1. Cognitive Therapy – 68.4% – a slight increase
  2. Psychotherapy – 31.6% – a decrease.
  3. Those on the waiting list had by now received treatment as it is a bit unethical to withhold treatment for such a long time!

Clearly Cognitive Therapy is the best strategy for dealing with SAD or Social Anxiety Disorder and it has the best long term effect.


Stangier, U., Schramm, E., Heidenreich, T., Berger, M., & Clark, D.M. (2011) Cognitive Therapy vs Interpersonal Psychotherapy in Social Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011; 68(7):692-700. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.67

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Does it matter if an individual trying to overcome anxiety, fear, depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and similar issues, has hope that they will recover compared to those that don’t?

Researchers* in the US have found that there is a strong correlation between a patients level of hope midway through treatment and the level of success of the treatment. One of the unifying symptoms of these categories of problem is a sense of acute hopelessness. This research strongly suggests that having hope is a change mechanism for such issues. In short if an individual gains hope during the treatment process, even if they didn’t have it at the beginning, there is a strong likelihood they will overcome the problem.

However this should not be taken to mean that only people with hope can overcome such issues. Hope during treatment is according to this study, a significant factor but there is no evidence at this time that it a necessary one for recovery.


Gilman, R., Schumm, J. A., & Chard, K. M. (2011) Hope as a change mechanism in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Jun 20, 2011, No Pagination Specified. doi: 10.1037/a0024252

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I would just like to thank everybody publicly who have shown patience and understanding during this time and to those who have supported (and are supporting) my family and myself following the death of my mother last year and my sisters sudden death last month. Things may be a little ‘wobbly’ for the next month or so but normal service will be resumed soon. Thank you. Dave x

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For a some time now there has been a disagreement between theoretical models of emotion regulation and coping strategies and empirical evidence founded on observation.

Theories of emotion regulation / resilience  and how to cope largely tend to emphasize the importance of processing and rationalising the situation. Often this means some form of cognitive reappraisal or in other words getting a different understanding or perspective on the situation such as finding and changing any biases we might have. Such theories often also tend to show that distraction and suppression techniques for dealing with things like anxiety and trauma, on their own are at best ineffective and can offer only short term relief and at worst (depending on the theory) can prevent long terms recovery or even re-traumatize  the individual.

On the other hand evidence from some empirical studies suggest that distraction techniques can be effective and that suppression techniques can, especially if habituated (become a habit) help with emotion regulation and coping with traumatic events.

In a paper published in the June 2011 Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, researchers* vaidating the Perceived Ability to Cope With Trauma (PACT) scale have now found that people who can do all three, cognitive reappraisal including the ability to be more optimistic (positive affect), suppression and distraction tend to cope better with trauma and are more effective with their ability to regulate their emotions.

The researchers term this as ‘coping flexibility’. I will explore the concept of coping flexibility in my next post.


Bonanno, G. A., Pat-Horenczyk, R., & Noll, J. (2011) Coping flexibility and trauma: The Perceived Ability to Cope With Trauma (PACT) scale. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Vol 3(2), Jun 2011, 117-129. doi: 10.1037/a0020921

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A fairly well accepted treatment for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or winter depression is 30 – 60 minutes exposure a day to bright ‘Full Spectrum’ light (10,000 LUX) during the winter months. This has been found to be an effective method of dealing with this mood disorder.

A question that researchers at the University of South Carolina were interested in was whether such treatment would also be an effective  for adults with high anxiety disorder. They tested the hypothesis with 33 high-anxious adults, exposing them to 45 minutes of bright full spectrum light every day for a period of four weeks.

They tested the subjects using a range of anxiety and depression indicators including blood pressure measures. There was no significant change in the individuals.

In short there is no evidence that bright light reduces anxiety.


Youngstedt, S. D., Kline, C. E., Ginsberg, J. P., Zielinski, M. R. and Hardin, J. W., (2011) Bright light treatment for high-anxious young adults: a randomized controlled pilot study. Depression and Anxiety

Posted in anxiety, Anxiety research, depression, overcome fear | 1 Comment

I have been doing some research at a couple of the universities I teach at (Oxford, Oxford Brookes, Cardiff and Liverpool Universities), around the area of fear of failure and procrastination. They are both often linked and procrastination is usually, (but not always) driven by a fear of failure.  Approximately 80-90% of the procrastination I have looked at appears to stem from a very simple fear driven basis. For example:

Beth is a writer, or more accurately she would like to be an author but at the moment she just writes. She is a member a couple of writing clubs and is a bit of a writing course junkie. Her bookshelves are full of books on writing and being an author, but 9 years on she hasn’t published very much and certainly hasn’t published the book she always wanted to. Firstly she hasn’t actually written the book. She has started a million times, but never quite seems to turn it into a book. Secondly she has never approached a publisher. Why? “Well I don’t really have much to give them”.

So why after all this time hasn’t she produced at least 5 or 6 books? A fear of failure.

What I discovered in just about every case where an individual is procrastinating, is they have played a scenario in their mind of being rejected or failing in some way. Beth for example was very quickly able to identify that she had a particular movie she plays in her imagination of reading the rejection slips from publishers. Every time she does this so the older part of her brain reacts emotionally, as if she has actually been rejected in reality. Her brain then thinks ‘whats the point? I keep getting rejected’.

Her brain now has a history of failure, even though she has never even submitted anything to a publisher. This in turn reduces her confidence and motivation to even try.

When I talk to failing business people I often find similar pattern. A history of imagined failure even before they have tried new things.

Oh and the other 10-20% of cases of procrastination? It’s still fear and it’s still fear of failure – sort of… more in my next post.

We have a whole host of new course dates around the country. Go to We cover how to kill this once and for all.

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Emotional resilience is starting to become a bit a of a hit in organisations and particularly how to develop it. As with all things when they start to become popular, misunderstandings leading to unintended consequences are bound to arise. Whilst i was in one organisation in London last week I over heard a conversation about resilience and mental toughness. Now when you think of the work toughness what does it conjure up?

The quote I over heard was, “This is business, it’s not a nursery. We need to be mentally tough. Resilience and toughness, that’s what is needed. This isn’t a place for emotions.”

Being mentally tough or emotionally resilient means also being tough enough and to deal with our and other peoples emotions. Often, especially in the work place people flight from dealing with emotional issues. There is very good research evidence to show that every decision we make starts in the emotional parts of our brain and that the decision is made before the rational/logical parts of the brain kick in. We then perform a deft bit of post-decision rationalization and think we made the decision based on logic.

Based on an increasing number of MRi and fMRi studies it would appear that we make any decision based on emotional facts and then see if it passes a logic test or rationalization. The problem is our logical processes are skewed by the emotional state we are in at any one time. I am currently analysing boardroom decisions in crisis situations and I am coming to the conclusion that not only are our decisions emotionally based but in a crisis the decision is often a fear based one where the actions that emanate from the board are classical flight (most often with lots of denial), freeze or fight reactions.

When we go to work don’t leave the teddy at home. You might need it later to throw out of the pram.

Posted in Decision making, Definitions in Emotional Resilience, Emotion, emotional resilience, Emotional Resilience Research | Leave a comment