Individual differences in extrinsic emotion regulation

Author: Ruth Jarman

Jarman, Ruth, 2021 Individual differences in extrinsic emotion regulation, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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As part of shaping their emotional environment, individuals (regulators) actively attempt to manage the emotions of their social partners (targets) using a range of extrinsic emotion regulation strategies. Regulators may use strategies such as situation modification by making changes to the problem situation, attentional deployment by redirecting the attention of the target, or cognitive change strategies by helping the target see the problem from a different perspective. Regulators could also use response modulation strategies and suggest the target does not show their emotion. Additionally, regulators may give the target advice regarding the problem or use empathic listening strategies. A person’s use of different extrinsic regulation strategies has the potential to influence the quality of specific social interactions, and in turn the broader quality of their social relationships. Research on the implementation of different extrinsic emotion regulation strategies is, to date, limited. My original contribution to knowledge regarding extrinsic emotion regulation as outlined in this thesis, focuses on the examination of individual differences in extrinsic emotion regulation strategy preference (with a focus on developmental differences between younger and older adults), flexibility in strategy use, and the consideration of associations between strategy use and the more general experience of positive and negative social exchanges.

Firstly, a cross-sectional questionnaire-based study was used to examine developmental differences in extrinsic emotion regulation strategy endorsement. Few clear developmental differences emerged. Older regulators were less likely to endorse situation modification strategies, which could be interpreted as compensating for age-related decline in cognitive resources. However, older regulators selected similar levels of cognitive change strategies (considered cognitively effortful), to younger regulators. This may indicate that older regulators gain prudence through their experiences over the lifespan and implement strategies that are effective and consistent with their goals. Overall, there was a pattern of slightly lower endorsement of all extrinsic emotion regulation strategies for older targets compared to younger targets. Older targets may have been perceived as less competent compared to younger targets, and less able to effectively implement extrinsic strategies. Further analysis of the questionnaire data revealed that associations between individual strategy endorsement and the quality of social exchanges varied as a function of age. Situation modification was associated with more frequent positive social exchanges, but only for younger regulators, and cognitive change was associated with positive social exchanges, but only for older regulators.

Across three studies, the concept of flexibility in extrinsic emotion regulation was explored. Initially, a binary (low, high) index from the questionnaire study showed no developmental differences, but an association with more frequent positive social exchanges. In a second questionnaire study, size and breadth of repertoire were calculated and breadth of repertoire was also associated with positive social exchanges. A daily diary study recorded extrinsic emotion regulation attempts in everyday situations over a fourteen-day period and allowed the concept of strategy-situation fit to be examined. The use of situation modification and problem solving strategies in situations perceived as being more controllable (indicating better strategy-situation fit), was associated with less frequent negative social exchanges. These studies examined regulator and target factors (developmental differences), situational factors (controllability), strategy preference, flexibility and associations with broader social outcomes, and provide initial evidence of individual differences in extrinsic regulatory processes.

Keywords: extrinsic emotion regulation, interpersonal emotion regulation, age differences, extrinsic emotion regulation flexibility

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Assoc. Prof. Tim Windsor