The emerging field of emotion reg...
Review of General Psychology Copyright 1998 by the Educational Publishing Foundation 1998, VoL 2, No. 3, 271-299 1089-2680/98/$3.00 The Emerging Field of Emotion Regulation: An Integrative Review James J. Gross Stanford University The emerging field of emotion regulation studies how individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express them. This review takes an evolutionary perspective and characterizes emotion in terms of response tendencies. Emotion regulation is defined and distinguished from coping, mood regulation, defense, and affect regulation. In the increasingly specialized disci- pline of psychology, the field of emotion regulation cuts across traditional boundaries and provides common ground. According to a process model of emotion regulation, emotion may be regulated at five points in the emotion generative process: (a) selection of the situation, (b) modification of the situation, (c) deployment of attention, (d) change of cognitions, and (e) modulation of responses. The field of emotion regulation promises new insights into age-old questions about how people manage their emotions. Conquer your passions and you conquer the wodd. ---Hindu proverb To yield to man's emotions will assuredly lead to strife and disorderliness . . . . It is only under the influence of teachers and l a w s . . , that courtesy will be observed, etiquette respected, and order restored. --Hsun Tzu (3rd C., B.C.E., DeBary, Chan, & Watson, 1960, p. 118) The principal use of prudence or self-control is that it teaches us to be masters of our passions. --Descartes (1649/1955, p. 427) How should we manage our emotions? Should we attend to them or disregard them? Esteem them or revile them? Encourage them or suppress them? Each culture answers these questions differently, but there is a common theme: we need to exert some measure of control over our emotions. Nowhere, perhaps, is this interventionist sentiment stronger than in the West. One of the central tenets of Western philosophy is "the wisdom of reason against the treachery and temptations of the passions" (Solomon, 1976, p. 11). Even within the Western tradition, however, opinions differ as to just how much emotions should be controlled. Some philosophers, such Work on this article was supported by Grant MH58147 from the National Institute of Mental Health. I would like to thank Lisa Feldman Barrett, Oliver John, Richard Lane, Randy Larsen, and James Pennebaker for helpful comments on a draft of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be ad- dressed to James J. Gross, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2130. Electronic mail may be sent to james @psych.stanford.edu. as Seneca (trans., 1963) and Ryle (1949), have seen emotions as troublesome deviations from proper functioning, and thus in need of severe correction. Others, such as Aristotle (trans., 1941) and Hume (1739/1969), have seen emotions in a more positive light, and thus less in need of strict regulation. This ambivalent Western legacy is reflected in conflicting say- ings such as "He who keeps a cool head prevails" and "Let your feelings be your guide." In the past 2 decades, an exciting new chapter has opened in the age-old discussion of how we should manage emotions: psychological re- search has begun to focus explicitly on emotion regulation. Research on emotion regulation originated in developmental psychology (Gaens- bauer, 1982) and now is flourishing in the child and adult literatures alike (e.g., Campos, Cam- pos, & Barrett, 1989 Gross, 1998). In this article, I review the emerging field of emotion regulation. First, I orient the reader to an evolutionary perspective that views emotions as response tendencies. Second, I define emotion regulation and distinguish it from related constructs. Third, I show how emotion regula- tion cuts across traditional subdisciplinary boundaries within psychology. Fourth, I propose a process model of emotion regulation that facilitates analysis of the potentially overwhelm- ing number of kinds of emotion regulation. Fifth, I consider several important challenges that the field still needs to address. I conclude that we do not yet have complete answers to 271
272 GROSS most of the questions about how emotions are regulated. Nonetheless, I argue that psychologi- cal research on emotion regulation shows every promise of providing the theoretical models and the empirical findings needed to answer funda- mental questions about how we can and should manage our emotions. What Is Emotion? Any discussion of emotion regulation presup- poses an understanding of what emotion is. And not just any definition will do. For example, Carver and Scheier (1990) view emotion as the readout of a system that monitors the rate at which the discrepancy between a goal and reality is being decreased (also see Hsee & Abelson, 1991, for a similar position). Positive emotion signals a rate of discrepancy reduction that is faster than expected negative emotion signals a rate that is slower than expected. Although the individual may take actions that lead to a decrease in negative emotion (e.g., allocating more resources to the task Carver, Lawrence, & Scheier, 1996), emotion regulation is viewed as an accidental by-product of such action, rather than an end in itself. For this reason, Carver and Scheier's (1990) conception of emotion provides relatively inhospitable ground for the study of emotion regulation. Emotions as Response Tendencies Other perspectives fairly cry out for an analysis of emotion regulation. William James (1884, 1894), for example, regarded emotions as adaptive behavioral and physiological response tendencies that are called forth directly by evolutionarily significant situations. Although individuals often express these emotional re- sponse tendencies, they do not always do so. James's view of emotions as response tenden- cies allows that individuals may modulate their emotional response tendencies, such as when they whistle instead of running away in fear. Discrepancies between emotional response ten- dencies and manifest behavior prompt questions about how, why, and when individuals might try to regulate their emotional response tendencies. Researchers today continue to draw on James's response-tendency perspective. As shown in Figure 1, many contemporary research- ers conceive of emotions as flexible response sequences (Buck, 1994 Frijda, 1986 Scherer, 1984) that are called forth whenever an individual evaluates a situation as offering important challenges or opportunities (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990). Emotional response tenden- cies are relatively short lived and involve changes in the behavioral, experiential, auto- nomic, and neuroendocrine systems (Lang, 1995). Importantly, emotional response tenden- Emotional Cues I Emotional Response Tendencies .Behavioral .Experiential .Physiological J- I Evaluation Modulation Emotional Responses Figure 1. A consensual process model of emotion generation. Adapted from "Antecedent- and Response-Focused Emotion Regulation," by J. J. Gross, 1998, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, p. 226. Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association. Adapted with permission.
SPECIAL ISSUE: EMOTION REGULATION 273 cies may be modulated, and it is this modulation that determines the final shape of the emotional response (Gross, 1998). t Historically, emotions were seen as nonspe- cific, disruptive activation states (Hebb, 1949 Young, 1943). More recent analyses emphasize the functions emotions serve (Keltner & Gross, in press). Although emotions address different adaptive problems (Ekman, 1992), they gener- ally facilitate decision making (Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1987), prepare the individual for rapid motor responses (Frijda, 1986), and provide information regarding the ongoing match between organism and environment (Schwarz & Clore, 1983). In addition to their intraorganismic functions, emotions also serve social functions. They inform us about others' behavioral intentions (Fridlund, 1994), give us clues as to whether something is good or bad (Walden, 1991), and script our social behavior (Averill, 1980 Keltner & Buswell, 1997). Enthusiasm for functional analyses of emo- tion should not blind us to James's observation that emotional response tendencies often need to be modulated. Indeed, inherent in the notion of a response tendency is the idea that a response tendency is only one of many determinants of behavior. In the discussion of emotion regula- tion that follows, I draw on James's response- tendency perspective on emotion. First, however, I clarify several important distinctions among terms that often are used interchangeably. Relations With Related Constructs All manner of distinctions have been made in an attempt to bring order to the "conceptual and definitional chaos" that characterizes emotion research (Buck, 1990, p. 330). Many of these distinctions are idiosyncratic. However, a few distinctions have broader currency, including those made among affect, emotion, emotion episodes, and mood. In some contexts, affect and emotion are used interchangeably. In others, affect is used to refer to the experiential (Buck, 1993 MacLean, 1990) or behavioral (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994 Kaplan & Sadock, 1991) components of emotion. Following Scherer (1984), I use affect as the superordinate category for valenced states, including emotions such as anger and sadness, emotion episodes such as a barroom brawl and delivering bad news to a close friend, moods such as depression and euphoria, dispositional states such as liking and hating, and traits such as cheerfulness and irascibility (Chaplin, John, & Goldberg, 1988). The most important distinctions among mem- bers of the affect family are those among emotion, emotion episodes, and mood. Whereas emotions unfold over a relatively short time period, emotion episodes are more extended in both time and space (Frijda, 1993 Stein, Trabasso, & Liwag, 1993). Emotion episodes, also referred to as plots (Ekman, 1984), scripts (Tomkins, 1984), and adaptational encounters (Lazarus, 1991a), include each of the protago- nists and all of the events in a given emotional scene (Forgas, 1982). For example, the emotion of anger involves acute changes in posture, facial movements, tone of voice, verbal expres- sion, experience, and autonomic responding. The emotion episode of anger includes all of these things as well as the instigator, the social context, and the whole sequence of responses and recriminations as they emerge in the ongoing interaction (see Averill, 1982). Emotions also may be distinguished from moods (Parkinson, Totterdell, Briner, & Rey- nolds, 1996). One distinguishing feature is duration (Nowlis & Nowlis, 1956) mood is the "pervasive and sustained 'emotional climate,'" and emotions are "fluctuating changes in emotional 'weather'" (APA, 1994, p. 763). A second distinguishing feature is that emotions typically have specific objects and give rise to behavioral response tendencies relevant to these objects (Frijda, 1993 Isen, 1984 Lazarus, 1991a). By contrast, moods are more diffuse (Morris, 1989), and although they may give rise to broad action tendencies such as approach or withdrawal (Lang, 1995), moods bias cognition more than they bias action (Davidson, 1994 Fiedler, 1988). Recently, several investigators have formulated a hierarchical view that inte- grates emotions and moods (Diener, Smith, & Fujita, 1995 Watson & Clark, 1992). This view holds that specific emotions are lower order elements within higher order valenced mood categories. In the context of emotion regulation, 1 The process model of emotion generation presented in Figure 1 is a distillation of major points of convergence across emotion researchers including Arnold (1960), Ekman (1972), Izard (1977), Lazarus (1991a), Levenson (1994), Leventhal (1984), Plutchik (1980), Scherer (1984), and Tomkins (1962).
274 GROSS however, differences in the response tendencies that are associated with moods and emotions suggest the need for maintaining this distinction. I therefore focus primarily on the regulation of emotion rather than affect, emotion episodes, or mood. 2 What Is Emotion Regulation? From time immemorial, people have won- dered how to manage their emotions. Only in the past 2 decades, however, has the field of emotion regulation begun to emerge as a relatively independent research domain. Now that we have a working definition of emotion, we can address the topic of emotion regulation. In the following sections, I consider two precursors to the contemporary study of emotion regulation. I then use a response-tendency perspective to define emotion regulation. Precursors to the Contemporary Study of Emotion Regulation The psychoanalytic tradition is one important precursor to the contemporary study of emotion regulation. This tradition emphasizes two types of anxiety regulation (S. Freud, 1926/1959). The first concerns reality-based anxiety, which arises when situational demands overwhelm the ego. Here, anxiety regulation consists of avoiding such situations in the future, even to the point of excessive behavioral constriction. The second type of anxiety regulation concerns id- and superego-based anxiety, which arises when strong impulses press for expression. Here, anxiety regulation consists of curtailing the expression of impulses that the ego judges will create high levels of future anxiety. Ego defense is the general term given to processes that regulate these two types of anxiety as well as other painful negative affects (Paulhus, Fridhand- ler, & Hayes, 1997). Typically, ego defenses operate outside of awareness (Erdelyi, 1993). Individuals have characteristic defensive styles that differ in reality distortion, impairment, energy consumption, and unnecessary nongrati- fication of impulses (Fenichel, 1945 A. Freud, 1946 Haan, 1977 Vaillant, 1977). Emotion regulation researchers remain concerned with reducing negative emotion experience through behavioral or mental control. However, the focus has expanded to include conscious and unconscious processes that increase or decrease the experience or expression of negative or positive emotions (Mayer & Salovey, 1995 Parrott, 1993). Methodologically, correlational and experimental approaches have taken the place of the clinical method. Researchers still view difficulties with emotion regulation as being central to psychopathology (Cicchetti, Ackerman, & Izard, 1995 Gross & Munoz, 1995) however, they now pay greater attention to normative emotion regulatory processes. The stress and coping tradition is a second important precursor to contemporary emotion- regulation research. The organizing principle in this tradition is that organisms produce similar psychophysiological responses to diverse chal- lenges (Selye, 1956 see also Sapolsky, 1994). Early researchers focused on responses to physical challenges such as cold or crowding. Later researchers expanded their focus to include responses to psychological challenges such as public speaking or exams. Although psychological stress and coping research has its roots in the psychoanalytic tradition, it is distinguished by a concern with adaptive, conscious coping processes, and by a focus on situational rather than person variables (Parker & Endler, 1996). Coping is defined as "cogni- tive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person" (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 141). Researchers have distinguished be- tween problem-focused coping, which aims to solve the problem, and emotion-focused coping, which aims to decrease negative emotion experience. Emotion regulation researchers have borrowed heavily from the stress and coping tradition. However, by examining specific emo- tions, they have sought to make finer grained distinctions among environment-organism inter- actions than is possible using the broader rubric of stress. Emotion regulation researchers also have emphasized that both positive and negative emotions may be regulated, and that both emotion expression and experience may be targeted. Although traditional definitions of 2 Mayer, Salovey, Gomberg-Kaufman, and Blainey (1991) have proposed a conception of mood that subsumes mood regulation. This substantially enlarges the traditional concep- tion of mood. I believe it may be more useful to distinguish regulatory processes from the targets of regulation.
SPECIAL ISSUE: EMOTION REGULATION 275 coping overlap with contemporary conceptions of emotion regulation, coping and emotion regulation are by no means redundant. Coping includes nonemotional actions taken to achieve nonemotional goals (Scheier, Weinbtraub, & Carver, 1986) as well as actions taken to regulate emotions. Emotion regulation includes processes that may or may not tax the individu- al's resources, as well as processes not tradition- ally considered in the coping literature, such as sustaining or augmenting positive emotions (but see Folkman, 1997). Defining Emotion Regulation What, then, is emotion regulation? Emotion regulation refers to the processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions. Emotion regulatory processes may be automatic or controlled, conscious or unconscious, and may have their effects at one or more points in the emotion generative process (which I describe in a later section). Because emotions are multicomponen- tial processes that unfold over time, emotion regulation involves changes in "emotion dynam- ics" (Thompson, 1990), or the latency, rise time, magnitude, duration, and offset of responses in behavioral, experiential, or physiological do- mains. Emotion regulation also involves changes in how response components are interrelated as the emotion unfolds, such as when large increases in physiological responding occur in the absence of overt behavior. This perspective on emotion regulation treats the nervous system as multiple, partially indepen- dent information processing subsystems (e.g., Fodor, 1983 Gazzaniga, 1985 LeDoux, 1989 Maclean, 1975 Malmo, 1975 Panksepp, 1982). Subsystems work with differing inputs, and often provide different outputs, even given the same input. Imagining a provocation can produce anger, even when we know that there is no threat (Lang, 1979). Similarly, seeing a roach in our soup can produce feelings of disgust and fear of disease, even when we know the roach has been sterilized (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). Interconnected neural subsystems monitor one another to varying degrees and are in continuous bidirectional excitatory or inhibitory interaction. The notion that there are bidirectional links between limbic centers that generate emotion and cortical centers that regulate emotion is important. It forces us to move beyond simple models of top-down control (Head, 1921 Jackson, 1884) to models that emphasize emotional tuning of higher brain centers (Derry- berry & Tucker, 1992) as well as more traditional top-down control. I focus on five aspects of this definition of emotion regulation. First, individuals increase, maintain, and decrease negative and positive emotions (Parrott, 1993). All of these processes are included in my definition of emotion regulation. Second, neural emotion circuits do not appear to overlap completely (LeDoux, 1994 Panksepp, 1982 1998). This suggests that circuits involved in regulating these emotions also may not overlap completely, and that there may be important differences in emotion regula- tory processes across emotions. Third, this definition of emotion regulation emphasizes regulation in self. Other definitions include attempts to influence others' emotions (e.g., Gross & Levenson, 1993 Masters, 1991 Thompson, 1994). I now believe this double usage is unfortunate, as it mixes two potentially quite different sets of motives, goals, and processes. Fourth, prototypic examples of emo- tion regulation are conscious, such as deciding to change an upsetting conversational topic or squelching laughter at a child's inappropriate antics. One can imagine, however, emotion regulatory activity that occurs without con- scious awareness, such as hiding one's disap- pointment at an unattractive present (Cole, 1986) or turning one's attention away from potentially upsetting material (Boden & Baumeister, 1997). Previous discussions have distinguished categorically between conscious and unconscious processes (Masters, 1991 Mayer & Salovey, 1995). I prefer to think of a continuum from conscious, effortful, and con- trolled regulation to unconscious, effortless, and automatic regulation (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). Fifth, I make no a priori assumptions as to whether emotion regulation is good or bad (Thompson & Calkins, 1996). This circumvents the confusion that was created in the stress and coping literature by predefining defenses as maladaptive and coping as adaptive (Parker & Endler, 1996). Thus, cognitive strategies that dampen negative emotions may permit medical professionals to operate successfully (Lief & Fox, 1963 Smith & Kleinman, 1989). The same