The Effects of Implicit Theories of Emotion on Emotion Regulation and Experience
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This dissertation examined the effects of implicit theories of emotion (beliefs about the malleability of emotion) on emotion regulation and experience. Incremental theories involve beliefs that emotions are controllable; entity theories involve beliefs that emotions are uncontrollable. I hypothesized that an incremental theory would be associated with better well-being, more adaptive emotion regulation, and mastery-oriented patterns of response to emotion regulation difficulty, compared to an entity theory. Study 1 developed a valid and reliable questionnaire to assess trait implicit theories of emotion and examined correlations with self-reports of personality, emotional experience, emotion regulation, and well-being. A trait incremental theory was associated with greater positive emotion and less negative emotion, an effect that was mediated by the tendency of incremental theorists to use more active coping and adaptive emotion regulation strategies, compared to entity theorists. Incremental theories were also associated with greater overall well-being, lower depression, and less stress. Studies 2-5 manipulated implicit theories of emotion and examined their causal effects on emotion and emotion regulation. Although entity and incremental participants did not report differences in emotional experience when experiencing emotions naturally (Study 2), participants in the incremental group were more likely to regulate their emotions when explicitly asked to do so (Study 3). Specifically, only incremental participants responded to instructions to remain objective while rating emotionally evocative images. Studies 4 and 5 examined differences in reactions to emotion regulation difficulty. After completing an emotional interference task, all (Study 4) or a random half (Study 5) of participants were told that they had done poorly and rated attributions for their performance, affect, and motivation to remain engaged versus withdrawing. Although hypothesized patterns did not emerge as a whole, participants in the incremental condition were more likely to attribute their performance (failure or success) to strategy use. This research has implications for the study of emotion regulation, in particular, patterns of helplessness and mastery within the domain of emotions.