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Keeping emotions in check may not always benefit psychological health
Date:10/28/2013

Being able to regulate your emotions is important for well-being, but new research suggests that a common emotion regulation strategy called "cognitive reappraisal" may actually be harmful when it comes to stressors that are under our control. The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Context is important," says psychological scientist and lead researcher Allison Troy of Franklin & Marshall College. "Our research is among the first to suggest that cognitive reappraisal may actually have negative effects on psychological health in certain contexts."

Previous research has shown that cognitive reappraisal a strategy that involves reframing one's thoughts about a given situation in order to change its emotional impact is especially beneficial for the psychological health of people who are highly stressed. But, as Troy and colleagues discovered, the controllability of a given situation seems to be the key in determining whether cognitive reappraisal helps or hurts:

"For someone facing a stressful situation in which they have little control, such as a loved one's illness, the ability to use reappraisal should be extremely helpful changing emotions may be one of the only things that he or she can exert some control over to try to cope," Troy notes.

"But for someone experiencing trouble at work because of poor performance, for example, reappraisal might not be so adaptive. Reframing the situation to make it seem less negative may make that person less inclined to attempt to change the situation."

For their study, the researchers recruited a community sample of people who had recently experienced a stressful life event. The participants took an online survey aimed to measure their levels of depression and life stress. About one week later, they came to the lab to take part in a challenge designed to measure their cognitive reappraisal ability.

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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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