University of Amsterdam

This part of the project, developed by Agneta Fischer and Lisanne Pauw, extends our findings on experimental games into more realistic settings, including those involving direct face-to-face interaction.  The twin aims are to establish ecological validity of experimental findings and to explore the practical implications of social-appraisal processes across a range of real-world settings such as close personal relationships, work teams and patient-client communications.

Success in such interpersonal relationships can hinge on whether emotion regulation is deployed and whether it is detected or misinterpreted by others.  Our proposed studies investigate this in interdependent contexts where support is required, for example when a sender has to deliver upsetting information to a receiver (e.g., a doctor giving a patient bad news or an employee reporting failure to a supervisor). The guiding idea is that these communication contexts bring different consequences for receivers depending on senders’ emotion presentations, and the extent to which receivers perceive these presentations as regulated.  We argue that receivers draw appraisal inferences not only on the basis of the perceived nature of senders’ emotions but also from its apparent degree of regulation and the perceived motives behind regulation.

Previous research suggests that emotion regulation has negative effects on health and social connectedness (Butler et al., 2003; English, John, Srivastava, & Gross, 2012). For example, suppressing expressions not only has personal consequences for senders (e.g. heightened blood pressure), but also affects relational outcomes (e.g., reduced rapport, and distraction), which can be stressful for both senders and receivers.  However, most previous studies assessed stable dispositions to suppress emotion, rather than situationally-specific regulation.  In our view, the interpersonal effects of emotion regulation also depend on the nature of the current situation and the context-sensitive interactional motives of senders and receivers.  In particular, we argue that social-appraisal processes are implicated in the intrapersonal and interpersonal effects of emotion regulation.

When delivering bad news, senders may either up-regulate (intensify) or down-regulate (suppress) their emotion expression.  Up-regulation may serve the function of conveying sympathy and concern, while down-regulation may be motivated by a desire either to reassure the receiver or to activate a norm of emotion containment.  In either case, senders expect to attain specific social goals (Tamir & Ford, 2012). For example, senders may suppress anxiety displays with the goal of reducing emotionality in receivers (e.g., Simons, Bruder, Parkinson, & van der Löwe, 2013).  However, if receivers believe that senders are suppressing expressions in order to protect them from the truth, they may conclude that the situation is worse than they might otherwise have supposed.  For this reason, it is possible that receivers sometimes appraise situations as more serious if senders suppress emotions, rather than showing them.  Thus, senders’ expectations about the effects of their emotion regulation do not always correspond to the actual effects of such regulation.  In our view, interpersonal miscalibration of this kind is common across a wide range of real-world settings in which one or more interacting parties needs to cope with stressful news.  No previous research has addressed such effects and our research therefore fills an important gap in the emotion-regulation literature.