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Interpersonal emotion regulation refers to the process of trying to influence the way another person or persons feel. It is sometimes termed extrinsic emotion regulation or interpersonal emotion management.
Interpersonal emotion regulation refers to the deliberate influence of others' feelings. Examples include trying to cheer up a friend who is upset, trying to make your partner feel guilty for neglecting you, or trying to calm a stressed coworker. These examples illustrate that interpersonal emotion regulation may be used to make others feel better or worse, although making others feel better appears to be far more common.
Many instances of interpersonal emotion regulation, such as those described above, are dyadic; in other words, they involve one person trying to influence the feelings of another person. However, interpersonal emotion regulation can occur between larger social groups. For example, in the workplace a leader might try to influence the feelings of a whole group of followers to make them feel more enthusiastic and motivated. Or in support groups, the whole group might work together to influence the feelings of a member to make the member feel less anxious or depressed.
Interpersonal emotion regulation is used in most of the important social relationships that we have. Within the fields of developmental and clinical psychology, researchers have long-recognized that people try to influence others' emotions (e.g., mothers influence the feelings of their babies, therapists try to alleviate the sadness of their clients). More recently, social and organizational psychologists have also documented the use of interpersonal emotion regulation within romantic and familial relationships and in a range of work settings (e.g., hospitals, law firms, debt collection agencies, and prisons). Interpersonal emotion regulation may even be used towards complete strangers as a way of making social interactions run more smoothly.
The concept of interpersonal emotion regulation stems from earlier research into emotional self-regulation, which is the within-person process whereby people influence and change their own feelings. Like interpersonal emotion regulation, typically emotion self-regulation is done to improve feelings (e.g., to make oneself feel happier or calmer), although research also suggests that people may be prepared to make themselves feel worse if they believe this will accrue benefits (e.g., making oneself feel angry to win in a negotiation or argument).
Likewise, interpersonal emotion regulation relates to emotional labor, the regulation of emotion as part of one's job role. In emotional labor, an employee (usually in a service or care role) is required to manage his or her emotions as part of the job (e.g., 'service with a smile'). Because employees can also be required to manage the emotions of their customers or clients as part of their job (e.g., debt collectors are required to elicit anxiety in relaxed debtors to encourage them to make a payment), interpersonal emotion regulation can be performed as a form of emotional labor.
Interpersonal emotion regulation also shares links with other processes by which people come to influence others’ emotions, such as emotional contagion, in which the emotions of one person are ‘caught’ by another person as a result of mere contact (e.g., if you were having a terrible day, you might 'infect' your friends with your bad mood). Similarly, the compulsion to tell other people about our emotional experiences (termed the social sharing of emotions) can also result in other people coming to feel what we feel. The difference between these processes and interpersonal emotion regulation regards the level of processing involved. Interpersonal emotion regulation is a controlled process, whereby a person intentionally tries to change the way others feel. In contrast, emotional contagion is thought to be relatively automatic, engaged without conscious awareness, while social sharing is somewhat more conscious but typically lacks the intent to influence others’ emotions.
Other related processes include social support, which involves giving others emotional, informational, or practical support, and interpersonal influence, which involves trying to change the attitudes and/or behaviors of other people. The key difference here is that interpersonal emotion regulation is primarily concerned with changing other people’s feelings; any changes to attitudes or behaviors are secondary to the impact on emotion.
Interpersonal emotion regulation strategies
There are potentially hundreds of strategies that people can use to influence others' feelings. A series of studies reported by Niven and colleagues generated almost 400 unique strategies that could be differentiated primarily according to whether they are used to improve or to worsen others' feelings. Another key distinction is between strategies that engage a person in the specific situation that has caused the emotion (e.g., trying to get the person to see a situation in a different light) and those that divert attention away (e.g., joking with the person).
Research based on Niven and colleagues' classification has indicated that these distinct strategy types have different effects on the well-being of the people who use them and also on the people who they are used towards. They may even have different implications for the quality of the relationship between these two parties.
A different way of distinguishing interpersonal emotion regulation strategies is according to the stage of the emotion that they focus on. Inspired by James Gross's process model of emotion, some researchers have suggested that there is a difference between strategies that try to change the underlying emotion someone is feeling and strategies that try to change the emotion that the person expresses outwardly.
Measuring the use of interpersonal emotion regulation
People's self-reported use of interpersonal emotion regulation to influence others' feelings can be assessed using the 'EROS' measure. EROS (standing for Emotion Regulation of Others and Self) is a freely available measure that assesses strategies used to improve and worsen both one's own and others' emotions. It has two subscales. The intrinsic subscale measures emotion self-regulation using 10 items. The extrinsic subscale measures interpersonal emotion regulation using 9 items.
- Empathic concern
- Emotional control
- Emotional intelligence
- Emotional maturity]
- Social neuroscience
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