Think ahead before you regulate: A focus on future consequences predicts choices of and beliefs about strategies for the down-regulation of negative emotions

Abstract

Considering future consequences predicts many self-regulatory behaviors. Moreover, emotion regulation choices often involve trade-offs between immediate hedonic benefits and future well-being and mental health. We propose that focusing on future consequences may also predict emotion regulation choices. We examined whether people who consider future consequences of their actions are more likely to choose adaptive strategies and less likely to choose maladaptive strategies (Study 1) and whether people believe that adaptive and maladaptive strategies have differential short- and long-term consequences (Study 2). In Study 1, consideration of future consequences was related to choosing more adaptive and fewer maladaptive strategies for regulating negative emotions. In Study 2, participants believed that adaptive strategies are more effective in the short-term than in the long-term and that maladaptive strategies are more effective in the long-term than in the short-term. Moreover, commonalities in favored strategies were observed across the two studies. Taken together, the findings suggest that trait future time focus plays a significant role in emotion regulation preferences and that people have some knowledge about the varied temporal consequences of different strategies.

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Fig. 1

Change history

  • 01 August 2018

    The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake in the last paragraph of result section in Study 1.

  • 01 August 2018

    The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake in the last paragraph of result section in Study 1.

  • 01 August 2018

    The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake in the last paragraph of result section in Study 1.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [grant number 430-2014-00626]. The authors thank Allister Grapes for his assistance with data collection.

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Correspondence to Catherine N. M. Ortner.

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Ortner, C.N.M., Chadwick, L. & Wilson, A.M. Think ahead before you regulate: A focus on future consequences predicts choices of and beliefs about strategies for the down-regulation of negative emotions. Motiv Emot 42, 896–908 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-018-9705-3

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Keywords

  • Emotion regulation
  • Consideration of future consequences
  • Future time focus
  • Well-being