Regulating emotion is a very common activity among human’s daily life. As quoted from Tomkins (1984), healthy adults often must inhibit (to varying degrees) their ongoing emotion-expressive behaviour. Moreover, emotion regulation affects greatly in mental health and illness (Gross & Munoz, 1995; Ochsner & Gross, 2005). In spite of the importance of emotion regulation, we seldom learn the ways to regulate emotion on purpose. In fact, the common sense views of emotion regulation are remarkably inconsistent (Gross & Levenson, 1997). So, what is emotion regulation?
Emotion regulation is referring to the processes by which we influence which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express them (Gross, 1998). It involves the initiation of new, or the alteration of ongoing, emotional responses through the action of regulatory processes (Ochsner & Gross, 2005). There are many different forms and strategies in regulating emotion. Yet, there are two common ways used to down-regulate emotions. The first one is cognitive reappraisal. Reappraisal intervenes in the early emotion-generation process and recruits executive cognitive control processes in areas in ventrolateral, dorsolateral, and medial prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulated cortex (Goldin et. al, 2008). As a result, reappraisal can effectively down-regulates the emotional experience, behaviour and the emotion-related neural responses. The second one is expressive suppression. Suppression inhibits the behaviours that are associated with emotional responding (Gross, 2002; Goldin et. al, 2008). It suppresses the outward signs of emotion after the emotion has been generated internally (Richards & Gross, 2006). It only decreases the resulting behaviours but not the emotional experience nor the neural activities (Dunn et. al, 2009). Hence suppression is simply hiding one’s own emotion from expressing externally but still experiencing internally. Both strategies can regulate emotion but which one is better?
According to Goldin et. al (2008), appraisal should be the better strategy in regulating emotion as it alters the whole emotional response during the emotion-generation process. This leads to less experiential, behavioural and physiological responses. On the other hand, suppression simply just decreases the expressive behaviour but not emotional experience. This increases the physiological responses due to the effort to “hide” the emotion-expressive behaviour (Richards & Gross, 2006; Goldin et. al, 2008). Therefore suppression requires more mental effort in order to regulate emotion while appraisal does not require that extra effort. Moreover, as suppression fails to decrease emotion experience, it forces the hiding of true emotion which may actually impair the memory (Gross, 2002; Richards & Gross, 2006). If suppression fails to regulate emotion, it may have negative emotional and cognitive consequences, potentially becoming a development or maintenance factor in mental or physical ill health (Dunn et. al, 2009).
Since emotion regulation is essential in our daily lives (Tomkins, 1984), correct and effective ways to regulate emotion should be learned actively. Among healthy adults, different people have different nature and strength of their emotional responses, and also the capacity to regulate the responses (Ochsner & Gross, 2005). As implied by Ochsner & Gross (2005), failure in regulating emotional responses leads to consequences ranging from personal distress to socially maladaptive and self-destructive behaviours. Therefore this shows the importance to learn the suitable and effective ways to regulate emotion.
In conclusion, effective emotion regulation can make individual to be capable to deal with sudden incidents happen in real life and hence it is essential in our daily lives. However, emotion regulation failure can cause stress and mental illness. Therefore effective ways to regulate emotion should be actively sought instead of passively learned.
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