Beliefs about emotion’s malleability influence state emotion regulation

Abstract

The current study examined how manipulating information about whether emotions are fixed or malleable influences the extent to which individuals engage in different emotion regulation strategies. We hypothesized that fixed, compared to malleable, emotion beliefs would produce less effort invested in emotion regulation. Participants were randomly assigned to experimental conditions emphasizing that emotions are malleable or fixed, and then completed an autobiographical negative emotion induction. Participants reported seven different emotion regulation strategies they used during the recall task. Participants in the fixed emotion condition, compared to those in the malleable emotion condition, reported engaging significantly less in self-blame and perspective-taking. They engaged somewhat, but not significantly, less in all of the other strategies, except acceptance. These results suggest that emotion malleability beliefs can be experimentally manipulated and systematically influence subsequent emotion regulatory behavior. Implications for affective science and mental health are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We also assessed the other scales of the CERQ (Planning, Catastrophizing, Blaming Others) as part of a larger study. In relation to the current study, there were no group differences in the state use of these emotion regulation strategies (all p’s > .38). We chose to focus on the selected seven subscales included in the main analyses in the current study in order to reduce participant burden, stay within time constraints, and because we believed the excluded emotion regulation strategies were the least applicable to regulating emotions in response to an upsetting personal memory.

  2. 2.

    We also assessed participants’ beliefs about the malleability of personality before undergoing the emotion belief manipulation. There were no systematic main effects or interactions between personality malleability beliefs and experimental condition on the dependent variables.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth T. Kneeland.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Kneeland, E.T., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Dovidio, J.F. et al. Beliefs about emotion’s malleability influence state emotion regulation. Motiv Emot 40, 740–749 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-016-9566-6

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Keywords

  • Emotion regulation
  • Emotion beliefs
  • Negative emotions
  • Psychopathology