Prior Research and Theory on Emotion Related Regulation

The construct of emotion regulation has been considered in several bodies of work. For example, it has been discussed in depth by temperament theorists who define regulation in terms of modulating internal reactivity (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). In the temperament literature, emotion regulation frequently is operationalized as involving attentional processes such as the abilities to shift and focus attention as needed (Derryberry & Rothbart, 1988; Windle & Lerner, 1986). Similarly, in the literature on stress and coping, investigators discuss attentional processes such as cognitive distraction and positive cognitive restructuring of a situation (e.g., thinking of a negative situation in a positive light) that, if successfully applied, modify the individual's internal psychological, emotional, and/or physiological reactions. Indeed, in their early work, Lazarus and Folkman (1984) viewed emotion-focused coping—efforts to reduce emotional distress in contexts appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the individual—as a major category of coping reactions.

People who can regulate their emotional reactivity in social or nonsocial contexts through allocating attention appear to respond relatively positively to stressful events. For example, the abilities to shift and re-focus attention have been associated with lower levels of distress, frustration, and other negative emotions (Bridges & Grolnick, 1995; Calkins & Dedmon, 2000; Eisenberg, Fabes, Guthrie, & Reiser, 2000; Kochanska, Coy, Tjebkes, & Husarek, 1998; Rothbart, Ziaie, & O'Boyle, 1992; Sethi, Mischel, Aber, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 2000; Wilson, 2003; also see MacLeod, Rutherford, Campbell, Ebsworthy, & Holker, 2002). Shifting attention from a distressing stimulus likely decreases arousal (see Derryberry & Reed, 2002). Focusing attention on positive aspects of the situation or on means by which to cope also can decrease negative emotion and increase positive emotion, whereas focusing attention on nonthreatening ideas or objects can distract a person from a distressing event or cognition.

Other frequently studied aspects of regulation are the abilities to inhibit or activate behavior as needed to adapt and achieve goals, especially if one does not feel like doing so. These abilities, labeled as inhibitory and activational control by Rothbart and Derryberry (e.g., Derryberry & Rothbart, 1988; Rothbart et al., 2001), have frequently been studied by temperament researchers. Furthermore, other theorists and researchers in clinical, developmental, and personality psychology have discussed constructs such as inhibition, self-regulation, constraint, impulsivity, or ego control, all of which involve the ability (or inability) to modulate the behavioral expression of impulses and feelings (Block & Block, 1980; Kochanska et al., 2001; Kopp, 1982; Mezzacappa, Kindlon, Sauls, & Earls, 1998; Olson, Schilling, & Bates, 1999; Oosterlaan, Logan, & Sergeant, 1998; Tellegen, 1985).

In our view, some of these processes are not voluntarily modulated by individuals and voluntary efforts should be labeled as self-regulation whereas less voluntary should not. (Researchers differ in their willingness to include the modulation of affect or behavior due to another person's efforts or behavior [often the parent's] in the definition of "regulation," but there might be agreement that such regulation is not self-regulation; see Cole et al., 2004; Eisenberg & Spinrad, 2004). For example, if a child is inhibited because of involuntary freezing in response to novelty or fear-inducing stimuli, this is not regulation (see Eisenberg & Morris, 2002, for more discussion of this issue). More effortful aspects of regulation such as voluntarily modulating attention or inhibiting or activating behavior have been labeled as effortful control (Rothbart et al., 2001). In contrast, we have labeled approach or inhibition of behavior that is hard to voluntarily control—as exhibited by impulsive individuals who are "pulled" to action with little voluntary control or behaviorally inhibited children who are seem unable to control their constrained, rigid, and inflexible behavior—as reactive or less voluntary control (also see Derryberry & Rothbart, 1997). Similarly, some attentional processes are more voluntarily managed than others, whereas others, such as anxious people's tendency to attend to threatening stimuli, can be viewed as involving reactive control (see Derryberry & Reed, 2002; MacLeod et al., 2001; Nigg, 2001).

The control of situations, which we consider an aspect of emotion-related regulation, often has been studied by coping theorists who are interested in instrumental or problem-focused coping (i.e., actions taken to solve the problem) in stressful contexts (e.g., Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Sandler et al., 1994, 2000). In addition, regulation of situations can occur prior to an emotion being elicited. Aspinwall and Taylor's (1997) defined such regulation as proactive coping or "efforts undertaken in advance of a potentially stressful event to prevent it or to modify its form before it occurs" (p. 417). Similarly, Gross (1999) discussed antecedent emotion regulation, which involves not only proactive coping, but also using attentional and cognitive processes to choose the situations that are focused upon and how they are interpreted. For instance, shy people might reduce their anxiety when planning a party by keeping the number of participants low or they might conceptualize a party with co-workers as a casual gathering of friends rather than a work-related event during which he or she is likely to be evaluated. Thus, emotion self-regulation can occur by preventing the occurrence of an emotion, as well as by managing circumstances in a way that fosters a different (often, but not always, more positive) emotional experience. Unfortunately, such proactive regulation seldom has been studied in children.


In our view, emotionality and emotion-relevant regulation, albeit related conceptually and empirically, are also somewhat distinct. We have proposed that they can be associated in a variety of different ways and in combination predict more variance in diverse outcomes than does either alone. Moreover, we have argued that different aspects of regulation and reactive control sometimes provide unique prediction of adjustment and quality of social functioning.

Eisenberg and Morris (2002) differentiated among three styles of regulation or control—highly inhibited, undercontrolled, and optimally regulated—and developed a heuristic model regarding how these types of regulation or reactive control predict social behavior and adjustment. Highly inhibited individuals are viewed as high in involuntary inhibition of behavior (often labeled behavioral inhibition in the temperament literature, e.g., inhibition in novel and stressful contexts, rigidity of behavior; Derryberry & Rothbart, 1997; Kagan & Fox, in press), low to average in voluntary inhibitory control, low in activation control, and low to moderate in attentional regulation (e.g., the abilities to voluntarily shift and focus attention). Undercontrolled individuals are hypothesized to be low in effortful and involuntary (reactive) modes of control, including attentional, inhibitory, and activational control, and high in reactive approach (or impulsive) tendencies. Undercontrolled individuals are expected to be prone to externalizing problem behaviors and to be low in social competence, especially if they are prone to experience negative emotions.

In contrast to highly inhibited or undercontrolled individuals, optimally regulated people are hypothesized to be relatively high in various modes of effortful regulation, including attentional, inhibitory, and activational control. However, because effortful modes of control can be activated voluntarily as needed, these individuals are expected to be flexible and appropriate in their use of regulatory behavior. They are also expected to be high in planful instrumental coping, proactive coping, and antecedent emotion regulation. Because they are viewed as moderate in the use of involuntary control and approach, these people are not expected to be overly impulsive or overly inhibited. Thus, optimally regulated individuals are hypothesized to be well adjusted, socially competent (including well-liked by peers), and resilient in stressful and negative situations.

We further hypothesized that individual differences in individuals' proneness to experience negative emotions may moderate or alter the relations of regulation (and perhaps reactive control) to children's socially competence behavior and adjustment. For example, undercontrolled people who are also high in emotional intensity, especially intensity of negative emotions such as anger, were expected to be particularly out of control and prone to reactive (emotionally driven) aggression and other behaviors that are based on unregulated emotion. Internalizing problem behaviors (e.g., fearfulness, social avoidance and shyness, and behavioral inhibition to novelty and new people), as well as low social competence, were expected to be predicted by the combination of high negative emotionality (especially intensity and frequency of emotions such as sadness, anxiety, or fear) with low regulation

(especially of internal emotion-related processes such as attention), low instrumental coping (due to their high reactive inhibition of behavior, which would reduce instrumental coping), and high levels of behavioral inhibition (e.g., high levels of reactive withdrawn behavior).

In summary, we have argued that individual differences in emotionality and regulation jointly contribute to the prediction of numerous aspects of social functioning, including socially appropriate and problem behavior, popularity with peers, shyness, sympathy and prosocial behavior. In some cases the contributions of emotionality and regulation are expected to be additive; in other cases, we predict interactive or moderating effects with the predisposition to experience negative emotionality.

EMPIRICAL FINDINGS Empathy-Related Responding Predictions

Because work on empathy was the genesis of our thinking about emotionality and regulation, much of our initial work on emotionality/regulation concerned empathy-related responding. According to our model (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992), and based on the notion that sympathy involves optimal regulation, we made the following predictions: (1) In general, regulation was expected to be positively and linearly related to sympathy. (2) Conversely, low levels of regulation, especially low levels of regulation of internal emotion-related processes (e.g., by mechanisms such as attentional control), were expected to be associated with personal distress; this is because personal distress is believed to reflect high levels of unmodulated negative emotion. (3) Emotional intensity, in general (i.e., for both positive and negative emotions) or for emotions such as sadness, was predicted to be moderately positively associated with sympathy (in that somewhat higher sympathy was expected for higher intensity people), particularly for individuals who could voluntarily modulate their emotional arousal as needed to maintain a moderate level of arousal. (4) People high in intensity and frequency of negative emotion were expected to be high in personal distress, particularly if they were low in the ability to regulate negative emotion. In addition, the relations were expected to vary depending on the negative emotion. For example, anger was expected to be negatively related to sympathy whereas sadness (especially intensity rather than frequency) was predicted to be positively related to sympathy.

In addition, sympathy was expected to be associated with a disposition toward experiencing positive emotions because sympathy and positive emotion may be an outcome or correlate of an optimal level of emotional regulation (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992). Moreover, individuals who tend to experience positive emotion may be more benign toward others due to mood effects or a relation between an ongoing sense of well being and a positive view of other people (Cialdini, Kenrick, & Baumann, 1982; Staub, 1984). In contrast, personal distress—which by definition involves feelings of distress, anxiety, or discomfort—was expected to be correlated with high frequency (as well as intensity) of negative affectivity and low levels of positive emotion.

The Data

In reviewing relevant data, we begin with brief summaries of initial studies with adult samples and then discuss research with children. We studied various ages to see if findings were consistent across ages and because we could use different methods with different age groups (e.g., adults can provide self-reports of their emotion and regulation more easily than children, whereas it is easier to obtain reports from real-life observers such as parents and teachers when studying children).

Dispositional Empathy-Related Responding

In general, we have obtained empirical support for the hypothesis that individual differences in emotionality and regulation predict differences among individuals in dispositional sympathy and personal distress. In an initial study with college students (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1994), we found that self-reported dispositional personal distress (assessed with Davis', 1994, questionnaire) was related to low levels of both self-reported regulation (behavioral and attentional) and friends' reports of students' coping. Although self-reported sympathy was unrelated to regulation in zero-order correlations, it was significantly positively related to regulation once the effects of negative emotional intensity were controlled (see Okun, Shepard, & Eisenberg, 2000, for similar findings with older people). Consistent with the notion that empathic people are high in emotional intensity, both personal distress and sympathy were positively related with intensity of negative emotion (including a variety of emotions) and dispositional proneness to experience sadness. However, friends' reports of negative emotionality (both intensity and frequency) related positively with students' personal distress, but not with sympathy. The aforementioned effects generally held even when scores on social desirability were controlled.

In regression analyses from the same study (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1994), regulation and emotionality contributed unique variance to the prediction of dispositional sympathy and personal distress. In general, the predicted moderational effects were not obtained in this study. Finally, frequency of positive emotion was negatively related to dispositional personal distress whereas intensity of positive emotion was positively correlated with sympathy.

In a similar study with elderly adults (Eisenberg & Okun, 1996), the pattern of findings was even more consistent with expectations. Self-reported regulation, especially emotion regulation, was positively related to sympathy and negatively related to personal distress. Negative emotional intensity was positively related to both personal distress and sympathy, although the relation was somewhat stronger for the former. Moreover, for women only (most of the elderly study participants were women), there was an interaction between negative emotional intensity and regulation (a composite of emotional and behavioral regulation) when predicting personal distress. Personal distress decreased with increasing levels of regulation for women at all levels of negative emotional intensity, but particularly for women who were low or average in negative emotional intensity. Thus, the relation between regulation and sympathy was stronger for women who were not prone to intense negative emotions. Apparently elderly women who were high in negative emotional intensity, were somewhat more likely than other women to be overwhelmed by vicariously induced negative emotion, even if they were high in regulation. However, even these women showed a significant drop in personal distress as a function of increasing regulation; the drop was simply less dramatic than for women moderate or low in negative emotional intensity.

The empirical findings regarding the relation of children's empathy-related responding to their regulation were similar to the findings with adults, whereas findings in regard to emotionality differed. In a study of 6- to 8-year-old school children, we obtained teachers' and children's reports of sympathy (on questionnaire measures) and parents' and teachers' reports of children's emotionality and regulation (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1996). Specifically, adults reported on children's emotional intensity with regard to negative, positive, and unspecified (general) emotions, frequency of children's negative and positive emotions, children's abilities to shift and focus attention, and children's abilities to inhibit and regulate their overt behavior. In general, adults' reports of children's regulation were positively related to children's dispositional sympathy. Further, vagal tone, a marker of physiological regulation (Porges, Doussard-Roosevelt, & Maiti, 1994), was positively related to self-reported sympathy for boys (although the relation was negative for girls). Further, there was evidence that for boys, physiological arousal (heart rate, skin conductance) when exposed to a relatively distressing film clip was related to low dispositional sympathy. Thus, boys prone to physiological overarousal appeared to be low on dispositional sympathy. In 2- and 4-year follow-ups of this sample, similar relations between adult-reported regulation and children's dispositional sympathy were found, both within a given assessment time and often across 2 or 4 years (Eisenberg et al., 1998; Murphy, Shepard, Eisenberg, Fabes, & Guthrie, 1999).

Moreover, in a study conducted with Indonesian third graders, the pattern of findings was similar to that found in the United States. Specifically, we found a positive relationship between children's adult-

reported sympathy and their regulation (Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2001). This finding in Indonesia was replicated 3 years later, albeit at this age, primarily for boys (Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2003). Thus, the initial data are consistent with the view that role of regulation in children's sympathy may be similar in fairly different cultures.

Moreover, in general, children's negative emotionality in our longitudinal study was negatively related to their sympathy; this finding was primarily for boys at the first assessment, but not in the latter ones. A similar relation between sympathy and dispositional negative emotionality was obtained in Indonesia (Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2001). Recall that in the research with adults, intensity and/or frequency of negative emotion was positively related to both sympathy and personal distress. It is likely the reversed pattern of findings for children is due to the types of children's negative emotions that are salient to adults. In general, researchers have found that boys exhibit more anger than do girls (Birnbaum & Croll, 1984; Fabes, Eisenberg, Nyman, & Michealieu, 1991; see Eisenberg, Martin, & Fabes, 1996). Probably adults' (particularly teachers') reports of children's negative emotionality reflect predominantly externalizing emotions such as anger and frustration, as well as overt distress (see Eisenberg et al., 1993; Eisenberg, Fabes, Nyman, et al., 1994); these sorts of negative emotions are likely to be particularly visible and salient to adults, and especially noticeable in boys. Parents may be likely to report internalizing negative emotions, as well as externalizing negative emotions, when reporting on children's negative emotionality; however, a dispositional tendency to experience or express internalizing negative emotions, like externalizing emotions, is expected to be related to personal distress (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992). In addition, teachers', but not parents', reports of children's positive emotionality were positively related to teachers' reports of girls' sympathy and boys' self-reported sympathy.

At the first assessment, there also was an interaction between general emotional intensity and regulation when predicting teacher-reported child sympathy (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1996). General emotional intensity is the general tendency to feel emotions strongly, without reference specifically to valence of the emotion (positive or negative). Children low in regulation were low in sympathy regardless of their general emotional intensity; such children were likely to be overwhelmed by their vicarious emotion when it was experienced. In contrast, for children who were moderate or relatively high in their regulation, sympathy increased with the level of general emotional intensity. Thus, children who were likely to be emotionally intense were sympathetic if they were at least moderately well regulated. Such children would be expected to experience vicariously others' emotions yet not become overaroused and overwhelmed by this emotion. A similar interaction was noted two years later, but only for boys (Eisenberg et al., 1998). (Note that the sample was small and power was limited.)

In brief, across studies, we generally (albeit not always) have found that regulation is correlated with high dispositional sympathy and low dispositional personal distress. Despite the use of differing methods for different age groups, regulation predicted dispositional sympathy for both adults and children. In contrast, the relation of emotionality with empathy-related responding appears to vary depending for children and adults. This is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that different measures of negative emotionality were used with children and adults. In general, adults reported on their own negative emotionality (although we did have friends' reports of adults' negative emotionality in one study), whereas other people (teachers or parents) reported on children's negative emotionality. In general, emotionally intense adults who report they are prone to negative emotion tend to score high on both dispositional sympathy and personal distress, particularly the latter. In contrast, friends' reports of adults' negative emotional intensity and frequency of negative emotion were related to college students' personal distress, but not sympathy. In addition, adults' reports of children's negative emotional intensity and frequency of negative emotion tended to be related to low dispositional sympathy in children, probably because children who exhibit high levels of negative emotionality are prone to overarousal and emotions such as anger that are unlikely to be linked to sympathy. In contrast, normal adults who report high levels of negative emotions may be those who are willing to think about and acknowledge their negative emotions; such people may be especially susceptible to vicariously induced emotion.

In addition, there is initial evidence that the joint contributions of general emotionality and regulation sometimes are useful for predicting individual differences in children's empathy-related behavior. Children who were prone to relatively intense emotions (both positive and negative) and who were well regulated were especially high in teacher-reported sympathy. Finally, it is important to note that although adults' reports of negative emotionality frequently were negatively related to children's dispositional sympathy, the tendency to be emotionally intense in general was positively related to teacher-reported dispositional sympathy for children who are moderately and highly regulated.

Situational Empathy-Related Responding

Prior to leaving the topic of empathy-related responding, it is worth noting that relations between situational measures of empathy-related responding and measures of dispositional regulation and emotionality are considerably weaker than findings for dispositional empathy-related responding. For example, Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al. (1994) found that adults' self-reported sympathy, sadness, and distress in response to empathy-inducing films were not only positively related to measures of intensity of emotion, but also negatively related to a self-reported measure of emotion regulation. Facial reactions to the films, including sadness, concerned attention, and distress, were all related to some of the measures of emotionality, but they were unrelated to measures of regulation. Men's heart rate acceleration during an evocative portion of the film (a marker of personal distress) was positively correlated with frequency and intensity of dispositional negative emotion, and negatively related to emotion regulation. Thus, the relations of measures of situational empathy-related responding varied with the specific measure and sex of the individual.

Most of our research on situational empathy-related responding has been conducted with children. In a study of children aged 4 to 6 years, more consistent relations between situational sympathy and dispositional regulation were found, at least for the measure of facial concerned attention in response to a film about peer conflict (a child being bullied; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1995). Children's facial reactions to the conflict film were videotaped and their self-reported reactions were assessed after the film. For children who viewed the conflict film first (effects were diluted for the group who viewed another film first), those high in facial concerned attention were rated by teachers as high on attentional control and low on negative dispositional emotional intensity and nonconstructive (acting out versus avoidant) coping. Facial distress and sadness reactions, as well as self-reported reactions, were infrequently related to measures of dispositional regulation and emotionality.

Moreover, in a study of nearly 200 children in kindergarten to third grade (Guthrie et al., 1997), children who evidenced sympathy (e.g., facial sadness, mean heart rate decline, and self-reported sympathy) in response to an empathy-inducing film generally were rated higher in regulation and resiliency, although findings sometimes were obtained for only one sex and often were weak. For example, facial sadness in response to the sympathy segment of the film was positively related to teachers' ratings of attention shifting and resiliency (the latter particularly for girls), as well as teachers' and parents' ratings of general emotional intensity. Children who evidenced personal distress (e.g., facial distress) were rated relatively high in emotionality. Girls' (but not boys') reports of sympathy were positively related to teachers' ratings of attentional control. Moreover, self-reports of situational sympathy for both boys and girls were negatively related to parents' ratings of negative emotionality, whereas self-reports of sadness were positively related to parents' ratings of general emotional intensity and fathers' ratings of negative emotionality (this was particularly true for boys).

Thus, although situational measures of empathy-related responding tend to be related to emotionality and sometimes regulation, the findings are complex and relatively weak. Given that emotional responding in any particular context may or may not be a very reliable index of general empathy-related dispositions, it is not really surprising that the relations between situational measures of empathy-related responding and dispositional emotionality and regulation are weak. If numerous situational empathy-related reactions were aggregated across different events and settings, the relation of these aggregated responses to enduring personality characteristics such as emotionality and regulation probably would be stronger (Rushton, Brainerd, & Pressley, 1983).

Finding Your Confidence

Finding Your Confidence

Confidence is necessary to achieve success in life. Some effective confidence tips must be followed if you genuinely want to gain accomplishment in your work. So how do you build your confidence that will work for you in any situation? Initially, make an effort to spend time with confident people. Their vigor and strength is so stirring that you will surely feel yourself more powerful just by listening to their talk. To build confidence it is vital that you are in the midst of self-assuring people.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment