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Why do I feel the way I do? Emotional dysregulation and the need to understand the causes of emotions


Attribution theory seeks to explain why an individual experiences a given emotion in a certain situation. This process occurs intrapersonally, with individuals seeking to identify the factors that led them to experience a given emotional state, with difficulties in this process potentially constituting a component of emotional dysregulation. It was hypothesised that when individuals with poor emotion regulation experienced emotions within a context that did not provide clear antecedents for their emotional state, they would respond by seeking to establish a context that would better explain their current emotional state. A sample of 112 undergraduate students (78 females, 34 males; mean age of 20.54 years, SD = 5.66) were provided with the opportunity to alter their situational context so that it better explained their current emotional state, under conditions where the contextual antecedents for their emotion varied in salience. Findings were mixed. However, for some emotions, individuals with emotional dysregulation and related difficulties who encountered a context where clear antecedents for their emotional state were absent responded by attempting to adjust their social context so that it better explained their emotional state. The clinical implications of these findings as well as potential methodological improvements to the study design are outlined.

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Correspondence to Duncan Gill.

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The authors do not have conflicts of interest to disclose. There are no funding sources to disclose. The study was approved by the relevant Human Research Ethics Committee (Reference: 5201500956). Following the experiment, informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to the use of their data.

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Gill, D., Warburton, W. & Sweller, N. Why do I feel the way I do? Emotional dysregulation and the need to understand the causes of emotions. Curr Psychol 40, 4895–4907 (2021).

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  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Chronic worry
  • Emotional invalidation
  • Attribution theory