1 Thoughts about Various Perspectives on Emotion Regulation Lois A. Ehrmann The Pennsylvania State University
Cole et.al., (1994) described emotion regulation as an important developmental task for individuals. They indicated that emotion regulation is the ability of a person to appropriately respond to the demands of environmental events with emotions that are socially acceptable and matched to that situation. In some cases this emotional expression will be spontaneous while at other times the ability to delay a spontaneous reaction will be more advantageous to the individual. Understanding the contextual nature of events and the need for flexibility are important to effective emotion regulation. A good fit between mother and child assists the child in developing effective emotion regulation. Gross (1999) presented a somewhat different viewpoint in that he pointed out that there is also an evolutionary process involved in the regulation of emotion. He discussed the brain structures that are involved in the emotional domain and indicated that in prior stages of evolutionary development, human beings relied solely on these brain structures in order to react quickly to danger and to ensure survival in a harsh environment. He explains that human beings’ brains now have additional brain structures that help bring the cognitive and reasoning domain capacities into play. This assists individuals to devise more effective coping and behavioral patterns but we still need to have effective emotion regulation because the emotional brain structures still operate. Carstensen et al., (1997) sees emotion regulation within the framework of socioemotional selectivity theory. From this point of view, emotion regulation involves the processes that humans take part in whereby, they influence which emotions they have and when they have them and how they are experienced or expressed. The individual, dependent on the social situation and stage in the lifespan, selects strategies for emotion regulation. Context and environment count for Carstensen et al., and Cole et al.. I believe that all the different perspectives have important contributions to make in the conceptualism of emotion regulation and in our understanding of the etiology of emotion dysregulation. Gross talks about two different pathways in the experience of emotions. One is an automatic pathway that is quick and involves very little cognitive ability. This would be similar to the fight, flight or freeze responses that occur when we feel as if we are in danger. Could a possible explanation for the emotion dysregulation we sometimes see in research or clinical settings stem from the individual being caught up in processing issues/cues in the emotional brain structure and not the process that evolved in later or cortex brain structure? Such over-reliance could be due to chronic stress in the environment such as abuse, neglect, abandonment or war. Some research has shown (Schore, 1994) that such life events increase the levels of cortisol stress hormone in the body and over time can do permanent neurological damage in the emotional regulatory systems in the brain. Cortisol keeps the emotional and survival structures of the brain triggered and on high alert. Again this is useful in dangerous or potentially hurtful circumstances but for ordinary day-to-day events not truly necessary.
2 When researchers investigate emotion regulation and when clinicians attempt to provide treatment strategies to help people move their dysregulation into an appropriate regulatory pattern, it is essential to remember that there are both contextual and environmental issues to be considered. As well there is some specific wiring in the brain that is part of our evolutionary history. The conceptualizations of emotion regulation should not be an ‘either/or’ issue but rather a ‘both/and’ issue.
References Carstensen, J., Gross, J., Fung, H. (1997). The social context of emotional experience. In Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 17. Scahie, K.W. & Lawton, M.P. (Eds.). pp. 325-352. Cole, P., Michel, M., & O’Donnell Teti, L. (1994). The development of emotion regulation and dysregulation: a clinical perspective. In The development of emotion regulation: biological and behavioral considerations. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, Fox, N.A., (Eds.). pp. 73-100 Gross, J. (1999).Emotion and emotion regulation. In Handbook of personality: Theory and Research. Pervin, L.A., and O.P. John, (Eds.) New York: Guilford, pp. 525538. Schore, A. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.