Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Emotional control vs. emotional expressiveness

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Emotional control vs. emotional expressiveness:
Is it better to keep emotions in or to let them out?


Is it better to keep emotions in or to let them out? This is a question asked by many, yet there is still uncertainty of how much one should regulate or express their emotions. Is the saying 'don't bottle up your emotions' relevant in today's society? Is 'big boys don't cry' a better way to respond to our feelings? This chapter will explore whether emotional expressiveness, or emotional control, is better a better approach for dealing with our emotional experiences. Which approach leads an individual to live a more emotionally effective life? This chapter will discuss the different strategies used for control vs. expressiveness, their consequences and the associated positive and negative outcomes.

Examples of basic emotions

What are emotions?[edit]

“Emotions represent the wisdom of ages” (Gross, 2002, p. 281)

Emotions are basic biological features of human functioning that develop in childhood and continue into adulthood. However, the term emotion is difficult to define with the definition regarding the nature of emotions evolving over the last century (DeSteno, Gross and Kubzansky, 2013). Dan-Glauser and Gross (2013) define emotions as recurrent assessments leading to corresponding changes across experimental, behavioural and physiological response systems. Emotions therefore lead to adaptive responses caused by goal-oriented cognitive and physiological changes. Emotions do not force nor predict how an individual will respond to a certain stimulus, it does however make us more likely to respond in a set way. It is due to this which allows us to regulate our emotions (DeSteno et. al., 2013).
If you want more information about emotions please click on this link Emotions

Emotion Regulation[edit]

What is it?[edit]

Emotion regulation can be defined as the management of an emotional response by either supressing or enhancing the magnitude or duration of the response. Different processes are available to employ once the goal to regulate these emotions has been initiated which vary in an implicit or explicit nature (Gross, 2013). Explicit regulation involves a conscious and controlled regulation such as trying to look calm even though you are feeling anxious. An implicit regulation however involves an unconscious and automatic act such as turning away quickly from disturbing material.
For further information on emotion regulation visit the emotional self-regulation Wikipedia page.

Why do people use it?[edit]

There are multiple reasons why these regulations of emotions occur, some more than others. In general people try to supress negative emotions for example anxiety, anger and sadness. Whereas positive emotions including joy, love and interest are more likely to be increased. Less frequently the opposite can also be found, negative emotions are increased and positive emotions decreased. For example when in a serious situation emotions expressed from amusement need to be suppressed. Research has found that a child's ability to regulate their emotions can play an important role in their ability to get along with peers and teachers plus long-term behavioural adjustments (McCoy, 2011). This obviously shows that emotion regulation is a necessary process in our daily lives and if you keep reading you will discover the different forms of regulation and which one is more efficient.


It was once thought that emotion regulation occurred once an affective response had transpired. Following more study it has become evident that emotion regulation practices operate at multiple periods throughout the emotion-generative process (DeSteno et. al., 2013). According to the process model of emotion-regulation there are five points at which an individual can regulate their emotion. Each point on this model represents a genre of emotion regulation processes; situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change and response modulation. Each step in this process is seen as a possible target for regulation. The process model demonstrates different consequences as a result of different emotion regulation forms. These forms affect the emotion-generative process at different stages of the course of an emotion.

Process Model of Emotion-Regulation (Gross, 2013)
  • The first type of emotion regulation being situation selection involves performing an act in hope of placing oneself in a situation where we expect would produce emotions we would like to have.For example, to abstain from social situations so as to avoid the social anxiety associated with that environment.
  • The second type of emotion regulation is situation modification, this refers to the modification of one’s surrounding environment in order to alter your emotional response to said environment. For example, changing the TV station to a comedy program in order to lighten the mood.
  • A third type of emotion regulation is attentional deployment which refers to the redirection of attention in order to influence one’s emotional responding within a given situation. For example, choosing to watch television rather than completing an assignment you know will elicit stress.
  • Another form is cognitive change, this speaks of altering one or more of an individual’s judgements that arouse different emotions. For example, reassessing a situation so as to see it in a different light and not come to the same negative conclusion.
  • Lastly, the fifth form of emotion regulation is response modulation. This involves manipulating behavioural, experiential or physiological responses somewhat directly following an emotional response that has already been produces. For example suppressing your anger when an irritating customer keeps asking the same question.

(DeSteno et. al., 2013).
These all represent ways an individual can regulate their emotions and as a result their emotional response. Some forms of emotion regulation can take its toll on an individual, this can be due to direct negative impacts on ones pathophysiology or the alteration of crucial resources. These in turn can present a positive correlation with many unwanted psychological and physiological effects therefore acting as health determinants (DeSteno et. al., 2013).
Now that we have an understanding about the theory behind emotion regulation lets take a look at some of their common forms and the effects they have on our health.
For more information on regulating emotions follow this link [[[Wikipedia:Emotional self-regulation#cite ref-:6 6-1|Emotional|self-regulation]]]

Common forms of emotion regulation[edit]

Two common forms of emotion regulation are Repression and Expressive Suppression. As analysed by DeSteno et. al., (2013) several studies have proven that both suppression and repression of emotions are correlated with adverse health outcomes. This is also evidenced by Giese-Davis, Conrad, Nouriani, and Spiegel (2008) who claim that reduced emotional expressiveness is linked to health risks.

Repression is a type of defense mechanism.


Repression is a defence mechanism where an individual is not cognitively aware or unable to remember disturbing thoughts, feelings or experiences. Repressive individuals are thought to not believe they are upset even though evidence suggests the opposite. Research has associated repression with accelerated cancer progression and shorter survival rates. It has been proven by several studies that repressors demonstrate a contradiction between low self-reported anxiety and high cardiovascular activity including heart rate, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. Eysenck’s theory suggests that repressors avoid focussing on and have the tendency to comprehend four “sources of information” including personal behaviour, personal physiological reactivity, environmental stimuli and long-term information in a non-threatening way. As a result of this repressors do not express high activation when conducting self-reports but demonstrate raised physiological symptoms (Giese-Davis, et. al., 2008).

Expressive Suppression[edit]

At some point in our lives we have all experienced the need to suppress our emotions whether it was trying not to get angry at an irritating customer or trying not to laugh during a meeting. Expressive suppression is a common form of emotion regulation and has been well studied by researchers.
Expressive suppression is a form of response modulation involving deliberate emotion regulation where an individual holds back the expression of a negative or positive emotion (John and Gross, 2004). The core difference between suppression and repression is that a suppressor is aware of their emotion but refuses to express it.

Negative effects of expressive suppression

  • Higher cancer, cardiovascular disease and all-mortality rate
  • Increased sympathetic activation of cardiovascular system (eg. blood pressure)
  • High risk levels of developing inflammation associated with CVD
  • Increased chance of developing hypertension
  • Inauthenticity

Health effects of expressive suppression[edit]

For a long time the suppression of emotions has been suspected of having an association with health risks (Giese-Davis et. al., 2007). One of the first epidemiologic studies indicating a link between suppression and mortality was conducted in 1970 which predicted a link between suppressors and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality but faced much controversy due to its data collection and analysis (Chapman, Fiscella, Kawachi, Duberstein & Muennig, 2013). More recently a study was completed by Chapman et. al. (2013) which examined the relationship between emotion suppression and cancer, cardiovascular and all-cause mortality over a 12 year period. The article highlighted that suppression is thought to affect health on two levels, firstly at a behavioural level by activating unhealthy coping behaviours such as over-eating or unhealthy eating as a substitute for healthy emotional expression and secondly at a physiological level by activating a higher degree of autonomic reactivity to stress (previously reported of suppressors). Chapman et. al.’s study revealed that those who employed higher levels of emotion suppression over the 12 years had a higher chance of cancer-related and all-cause mortality. Expressive suppression has also been found to correlate with quicker cancer progression and shorter survival rates which was found to be similar to results found in repressors (DeSteno et. al., 2013).

One side effect of expressive suppression is raised blood pressure

Gross (2002) also raises the concern that the use of suppression such as in the case of suppressing sadness, amusement or signs of embarrassment can cause increased sympathetic activation of the cardiovascular system including blood pressure responses. A study mentioned by DeSteno et. al (2013) found that those who suppressed their emotions showed a 66% increased risk of developing high risk levels of inflammation that is associated with high risk cardiovascular disease. Furthermore a meta-analysis study by Jorgensen, Johnson, Kolodziej & Schreer (1996) also illustrated that the suppression of emotions can result in health problems. It concluded that not only higher blood pressure can occur but also greater hypertension, a chronic medical condition where a patient presents elevated blood pressure in the arteries (Ng, Stanley, and Williams, 2010), as a result of lower emotion expression (Giese-Davis et. al., 2008).

On another note the inability to discuss one’s angry feelings has predicted the risk of heart disease (DeSteno et. al. 2013). Studies have established that the suppression of anger expression results in elevated cardiovascular reactions to stress whereas the expression of anger did not. A study done by Harburg, Julius, Kaciroti, Gleiberman, & Schork (2003) revealed that women who suppress anger have an earlier mortality rate, as well as the suppression of anger in connection to systolic blood pressure being a predictor for early mortality in both men and women.

Chronic resentment can also occur as a result from the constant anger suppression from a repeated stimuli. The recall of the stimuli can re-arouse the anger felt as well as hostile attitudes perceived during the event. Chronic resentment can hinder communication and interaction due to a lapse of material needed for a social resolution of problems resulting in heightened intermittent anger responses. In other words if you continually suppress and bottle up your anger towards someone or something this anger will continue to increase over time (Harburg et. al., 2003).

In terms of a social context the cognitive resources needed to suppress emotions may have negative effects on one’s social interactions. When suppressing emotions the suppressor may fail to take in information from a conversation thus making them unable to respond applicably. This may cause the individual to appear avoidant and cause disruptions to their social interactions. A study completed by John & Gross (2004) demonstrated that subjects may experience more stress when interacting with a suppressor, shown by increased blood pressure.

Inauthenticity: the negative feeling of inconsistency between your emotions and your behaviour

On another note the frequent use of suppression can leave the user feeling a sense of discourse between the inner self and the outer behaviour, also known as inauthenticity. This incongruent expression of oneself is usually employed in order to avoid disapproval or social rejection but may result in negative feelings towards the self. Inauthenticity can lead the individual to distance themselves from others which may hinder the development of close emotional relationships and contribute further to distracted, strained and avoidant interpersonal behaviour (Gross, 2013).
As explained before suppression requires self-monitoring and self-corrective action during an emotional event. This continuous correction and monitoring requires the continuous use of cognitive resources therefore reducing normally available resources to help remember the event thus effecting one’s memory (Gross, 2013). In saying that there should be other ways to regulate one’s emotional expressiveness that is not so demanding on one’s resources, that is where reappraisal comes into play.

As you can see The use of expressive suppression is generally seen as a less efficient form of emotion regulation (Vrticka, Simioni, Fornari, Schluep, Vuilleumier & Sander, 2013). By suppressing the expression of your emotions it can lead to negative physiological and psychological effects. The negative effects on your social interactions can lead to affected relationships and social support.
These results obviously tell us to reduce our use of expressive suppression, so how else can we regulate our emotions?

Cognitive Reappraisal[edit]

On the other hand the use of emotion regulation can have its positives (Llewellyn, Dolcos, Iordan, Rudolph & Dolcos, 2013). Despite all of the previously mentioned negatives of emotion regulation there are more effective methods available to regulate our emotions when necessary. Cognitive reappraisal comes from the cognitive change family, it involves interpreting a potential emotion eliciting situation in a way that the emotional impact will be changed change (John & Gross, 2004). In other words reappraising the situation so as to not feel the forecasted emotions usually felt in that given situation.

Effects of cognitive reappraisal[edit]

"In terms of well-being, reappraisers have fewer depressive symptoms, and greater self-esteem, life satisfaction, and every other type of well-being we measured" (Gross & John, 2003, p.360).

Reappraisal can be used to decrease expressive behaviour but has not been shown to cause any obvious signs of increased sympathetic activation like what expressive suppression has been shown (John and Gross, 2004). In the DeSteno et. al. (2013) article and as previously mentioned expressive suppression demonstrated a 66% increased risk of developing high risk levels of inflammation which is associated with high risk of cardiovascular disease whereas reappraisal produced a 21% reduced risk of developing this symptom. Furthermore reappraisal has been proven to result in diminished autonomic responses, such as heart rate compared to suppression. This has led to speculation that expressive suppression but not reappraisal can be a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease (DeSteno et. al., 2013). As stated before suppression can cause the feeling of inauthenticity amongst users however, reappraisal does not create the same incongruent feeling (John and Gross, 2004). Furthermore reappraisal is induced in the primary stages of the emotion generative process and as a result does not need continuous self-regulation during the emotional event. Reappraisal does not demonstrate the same cognitively taxing features as expressive suppression thus individuals who employ reappraisal should not experience the same harmful effects previously mentioned (DeSteno et. al., 2013). Therefore, this strategy would be a more efficient form of emotion regulation due to fewer requirements on cognitive resources. As hypothesised and proven by John & Gross (2004) reappraisal is related to greater experience and expression of positive emotions. People who employed reappraisal also experienced and expressed less negative emotions.
As you can see cognitive reappraisal obviously has its benefits especially when compared to expressive suppression. It can be concluded that this strategy appears more efficient when wanting to feel less negative emotions and express positive ones, it is less cognitively taxing and does not appear to be physiologically harmful.

Emotion expression[edit]

There are many ways you can express your emotions

So why do we regulate our emotions? Why don’t we just express our emotions rather than suppressing? This section will discuss how we can express our emotions and their consequences including under-regulation and the pros and cons of expressing these emotions.
Take a look at this Self-Disclosure Test and see what your level of self-disclosure level is, you may be surprised.

What is it and why do we express emotions?[edit]

The expression of an individual’s emotions can be displayed in many ways including; one’s body, face, voice, gesture and gaze. These displays convey important information about an individual’s current state, their likely behaviour and enduring dispositions these in turn help to forge social interactions (Campos, Keltner, and Tapias, 2004). Furthermore the expression of one’s emotions signal to others their wishes and needs, if these signals are continuously suppressed others can not receive this information. This would result in less accommodating interactions which in turn would increase the chance of experiencing recurrent negative-emotion-burdened interactions (Gross, 1998).

Benefits of expressing our emotions[edit]

Studies have suggested that the exposure of strong emotional feeling can improve one’s health outcome by abstaining from the accumulative stress of suppression (Campos et. al., 2004). As mentioned before and in support of this a study completed by Gross (1998) concluded that when emotions were suppressed rather than expressed participants displayed an elevation in sympathetic tone. This demonstrates how the expression of our emotions can be better than suppressing them.

The over suppression or ‘over-regulation’ of emotions can lead to an accumulation of inhibited emotions which can no longer be contained. This may result in the under-regulation of emotion meaning the over expression of one’s emotions (Roberton, Daffern, and Bucks, 2012). In other words the more you bottle up a particular emotion the more likely they are to all come out at once. For example if you continuously suppress your anger towards someone at some point you will reach tipping point and over exert your anger towards them in one instance. It has also been found that the sharing of traumatic experiences such as talking or even writing about their experiences can lead to reduced physiological arousal. The disclosure of traumas has also been positively linked to better immune system functioning (Campos et. al., 2004).

Consequences of expressing emotions[edit]

As you can see the expression of emotions are important in our everyday lives so why don’t we express them more? The expression of our emotions are not always helpful nor are they always appropriate. The ability to compose these potentially overwhelming experiences of emotion is an important psychological skill (Roberton et. al., 2012)

Emotional under-regulation can be classified as when an individual can not contain emotional experiences sufficiently to continue to participate in goal-directed behaviours or to be able to inhibit impulsive behaviours. When this happens an individual is not able to employ emotion regulation strategies needed to control their behaviour (Roberton et. al., 2012). An example of how under-regulation may occur is when an individual is unable to control their intense anger and begins shouting at someone who they want to maintain a good relationship with. Likewise, when an individual is unable to control their anxiety they may be incapable of concentrating during a job interview. Such behaviour can often hinder goal achievement implying that emotion regulation is a necessary concept in our lives. Past research has also indicated that the lack of restraint in regards to emotional expression can be linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, including greater inflammation, atrial fibrillation, hypertension and heart rate response to stress (Giese-Davis et. al., 2008)
As you can see the expression of our emotions are necessary to fulfill our day-to-day lives, however, some emotions can be inappropriate or obstructive depending on the time and place (eg. getting angry at a customer).


As you can see emotional control and emotional expressiveness both have their ups and downs. Expressing your emotions can result in reduced physiological arousal and better immune system functioning. On the other hand the expression of your emotions are not always helpful or relevant and can hinder goal achievement plus the lack of restraint can lead to greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. So obviously we turn to emotion regulation in hope that this will give us a better option. But as discussed before using the common form of expressive suppression this can have many negative effects on our health. This form of regulation can be positively associated with a higher CVD and all-mortality rate, increased blood pressure and the awful feeling of inauthenticity. So how can we regulate our emotions when it is needed but avoid these negative side effects? The answer is cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal has been proven to provide those who employ this strategy with not only greater experience and expression of positive emotions but also less experience and expression of negative emotions.
The real answer to the originally proposed question ‘ is it better to keep emotions in or to let them out?’ is balancing your emotional expression with emotional control. The more we are aware of our emotions and the better we can understand the more we can better our lives. If you find yourself in a position where emotion regulation is required try employing the strategy of cognitive reappraisal which will hopefully result in better interpersonal outcomes and positive wellbeing!

Quick quiz[edit]

Here's just a quick quiz to test what you have learnt from this chapter;

1 According to this chapter which is the most efficient way to regulate your emotions?;


2 Which of these is not a form of emotion regulation ?;

Situation Selection
Cognitive Change
Response Modulation
Attentional Distraction

3 What is Inauthenticity ?;

the uneasy feeling when you act wrong
material that is not authentic
the process of expressing your emotions truly
a sense of discourse between the inner self and the outer behaviour

4 What is not a negative effect of expressive suppression ?;

Increased chance of developing hypertension
High risk levels of developing inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease
Higher cardiovascular mortality rate
High risk of developing diabetes

See also[edit]

Emotion & Health


Campos, B., Keltner, D. & Tapias, M. P. (2004) Emotion. In C. D. Spielberger (Eds), Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, (pp. 713-722) New York: Elsevier

Chapman, B. P., Fiscella, K., Kawachi, I., Dubersteing, P. & Muennig, P. (2013) Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 75(4), 381-385. Retrieved from

Dan-Glauser, E. S., & Gross, J. J. (2013) Emotion Regulation and Emotion Coherence: Evidence for Strategy-Specific Effects. Emotion, 13(5), 832-842. doi: 10.1037/a0032672

DeSteno, D., Gross, J. J., & Kubzansky, L. (2013). Affective science and health: The importance of emotion and emotion regulation. Health Psychology, 32(5), 474-486. doi: 10.1037/a0030259

Giese-Davis, J., Conrad, A., Nouriani, B., & Spiegel, D. (2007). Exploring emotion-regulation and autonomic physiology in metastatic breast cancer patients: Repression, suppression, and restraint of hostility. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(1), 226-237. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.08.002

Gross, J. J. (1998). Antecedent- and response-focused emotion regulation: Divergent consequences for experience, expression, and physiology. Journal Of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(1), 224-237. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.74.1.224

Gross, J. J. (2002) Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–291. doi: 10.1017.S0048577201393198

Gross, J.J. (2013). Emotion Regulation: Taking stock and moving forward. Emotion, 13(3), 359-365. doi: 10.1037/a0032135.

Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (1997). Revealing feelings: Facets of emotional expressivity in self-reports, peer ratings and behaviour. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 72(2), 435-448. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.72.2.435

Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2), 348-362. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.348
Harburg, E.,Julius, M., Kaciroti, N., Gleiberman, l, and Schork, M. A. (2003) Expressive/Suppressive Anger-Coping Responses, Gender, and Types of Mortality: a 17-Year Follow-Up (Tecumseh, Michigan, 1971–1988) Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 588-597 doi: 10.1097/01.PSY.0000075974.19706.3B

Harburg, E.,Julius, M., Kaciroti, N., Gleiberman, l, and Schork, M. A. (2003) Expressive/Suppressive Anger-Coping Responses, Gender, and Types of Mortality: a 17-Year Follow-Up (Tecumseh, Michigan, 1971–1988) Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 588-597 doi: 10.1097/01.PSY.0000075974.19706.3B

John, O. J. & Gross, J. J. (2004). Healthy and Unhealthy Emotion Regulation: Personality Processes, Individual Differences and Life Span Development. Journal Of Personality, 72(6), 1301-1334. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00298.x

Keenan, K., Hipwell, A., Hinze, A. & Babinski, D. (2009) Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37(5): 739–747. doi: 10.1007/s10802-009-9301-9

Llewellyn, N., Dolcos, S., Iordan, A. D., Rudolph, K. D. & Dolcos, F. (2013) Reappraisal and Suppression Mediate the Contribution of Regulatory Focus to Anxiety in Healthy Adults, Emotion, 13(4), 610-615. doi: 10.1037/a0032568

McCoy, D. (2011). Caregiver Emotional Expresiveness, Child Emotion Regulation and Child Behavior Problems among Head Start Families. Social Development, 20(4), 741-761. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2011.00608.x

Ng, K. H., Stanley, A. G. & Williams, B. (2010). Hypertension, Medicine, 38(8), 403-408. doi: 10.1016/j.mpmed.2010.05.001

Roberton, T., Daffern, M. & Bucks, R. S.(2012) Emotion regulation and aggression. Aggression and Violent Behavior 17(1), 72-82. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2011.09.006 doi:10.1016/j.avb.2011.09.006

Vrticka, P., Simioni, S., Fornari, E., Schluep, M. Vuilleumier, P. & Sander, D. (2013) Neural Substrates of Social Emotion Regulation: A fMRI Study on Imitation and Expressive Suppression to Dynamic Facial Signals. Frontiers in Psychology 4, 1-95. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00095

External links[edit]

Self-Disclosure Test
Self-Control & Self-Monitoring Test