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Emotional control can be thought of as a facet of emotion regulation, but refers primarily to attempts by an individual to manage the generation, experience, or expression of emotion and/or one’s emotional responses (Gross 1999). Emotional control, like emotional expression, is tied the broader context of emotion regulation. Emotional control can occur as part of antecedent-focused regulation prior to generation of emotion or through response-focused regulation after an emotion has been generated (Gross 1998a). Emotional control can refer to the ability to exercise influence over emotion and modulate emotion through the use of cognitive or behavioral strategies (Gross 1998b; Lazarus and Folkman 1984). The ways in which individuals are able to achieve emotional control have implications for health and well-being (Beck 1995; Berg et al. 2009).
Emotional control has varied definitions in literature on stress and coping and emotion regulation. Emotional control includes efforts by the individual to alter the generation of emotion, emotional experience, and emotional expression. Strategies aimed at emotional control can impact health in both positive and negative ways and are contextually dependent on situation, individual differences in personality and social context, and demographic factors such as ethnicity, culture, gender, and age (Berg et al. 2009).
Emotional control is an important facet of emotion regulation and can be facilitated by types of emotion regulation. Antecedent-focused regulation can have an influence on emotional control (Gross 1999). Antecedent-focused regulation refers to altering and regulating aspects of a situation and emotional experience prior to generation of emotion (Gross 1998a). There are several ways that an individual may use antecedent-focused regulation for emotional control. Essential parts of antecedent-focused regulation are situation selection, selective attention, and cognitive appraisal. Situation selection is defined as deciding where to go, what to be exposed to, or who to be exposed to as a means of controlling emotion (Gross 1998a). Selective attention is defined as choosing aspects of a situation to minimize emotional impact such as distraction or attending to less emotionally salient features of the situation (Gross 1998a; Strecher and Rosenstock 1997). Cognitive appraisal is defined as changing the meaning of situations so as to mitigate emotional impact such as looking at positive aspects or minimizing importance (Gross 1999, 2007; Strecher and Rosenstock 1997).
Use of antecedent-focused regulation strategies as a means of emotional control can lead to health outcomes, both positive and negative. For example, situation selection can reduce the likelihood that someone might encounter negative emotional experiences. However, selecting to avoid activities can potentially lead to decline in physical, emotional, and social functioning that may be associated with morbidity and mortality (Gross 2007). Shifting attention, such as use of distraction, may be adaptive in the short-term (e.g., pain management) (Berg et al. 2009; Gross 1998a). Prolonged use of distraction may not allow individuals to address aspects of problems that they can control or may prevent accurate detection of symptoms (Gross 1998a, 2007). Cognitive appraisal can prevent misinterpretations of situations known to impact emotional and physical health such as catastrophizing, emotional reasoning, or black and white thinking (Beck 1995). However, if one appraises problems as nonthreatening, then appraisals may not translate to appropriate emotional reaction or “over control” when it may be appropriate to react leading to worse outcomes (Lazarus and Folkman 1984; Strecher and Rosenstock 1997).
In contrast to antecedent-focused regulation, response-focused regulation occurs after emotion has been generated and includes direct attempts to alter experiential, physiological, and behavioral responses to the experience of emotion after the emotion has occurred (Gross 1998a, 1999, 2002). Response-focused regulation is also a means of emotional control. Emotion can be controlled by situation modification. Situation modification is defined as changing aspects of a situation to reduce emotional impact. Situation modification relies on coping strategies such as generation of multiple solutions and problem-solving (Gross 1998a). Once an emotion has been generated, individuals may choose to actively solve the problem which can allow for emotional arousal to subside. Use of problem-solving skills may provide health benefit when problems are well-defined and controllable (Berg et al. 2009). However, when problems are ill-defined, ambiguous, and perceived as uncontrollable, use of problem-solving may prolong stress, reactivity, and negative emotion. Thus, the way an individual chooses to control emotions can depend on the context of the problem.
Emotional control is an important facet of emotion regulation and can occur through efforts to minimize negative emotional experience prior to emotion generation (e.g., antecedent-focused regulation) or following an event through the use of coping strategies (e.g., response-focused regulation). Such skills are taught to individuals engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy for management of illness, psychopathology, and everyday problems (Beck 1995). Cognitive and behavioral strategies can help individuals have greater control over emotional arousal that produces ill health effects (Gross 1999). Emotional control can be achieved through provision of skills related to problem-solving (Gross 1998a, 1999). These include behavioral skills to facilitate emotional control such as stress management skills (e.g., deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation), exercise, and/or engaging in regular healthy behaviors such as sleep hygiene and diet. Similarly, using cognitive appraisal skills to alter ongoing emotional experience may be helpful. Use of antecedent- and response-focused regulation for emotional control can help downregulate negative emotion and reduce physiological reactivity which may confer health benefits (Gross 1999, 2002). Inability to effectively control emotion can have detrimental effects on health and well-being. Difficulty in controlling emotional reactions has been linked to psychopathology such as personality disorders, anxiety disorders, as well as risky behavior all of which have adverse association with health (e.g., poor social support, prolonged interpersonal stress, substance abuse, risk-taking behaviors) and may have a neural basis (Gross 2007; Strecher and Rosenstock 1997).
References and Further Reading
- Beck, J. S. (1995). Cognitive therapy: Basics and beyond. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Berg, C. A., Skinner, M. A., & Ko, K. K. (2009). An integrative model of everyday problem solving across the adult life span. In M. C. Smith (Ed.), Handbook of research on adult learning and development (pp. 524–552). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Gross, J. J. (Ed.). (2007). Handbook of emotion regulation. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Strecher, V. J., & Rosenstock, I. M. (1997). The health belief model. In K. Glanz, F. M. Lewis, & B. K. Rimer (Eds.), Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar