Making the Most of Emotional Experiences: Emotion-Focused Coping, Emotional Intelligence, Socioemotional Selectivity, and Emotional Storytelling
· The power of emotions traditionally is described in such negative terms as “the beast within” (Averill, 1990).
· Stanton, Danoff-Burg, Cameron, and Ellis (1994) found that scales assessing emotion-focused coping contained items in which the respondent had to engage in self-deprecation and/or admit to having distress or psychopathology anytime he or she acknowledged experiencing intense emotion.
· When questions that framed emotional regulation in such a confounding manner were removed from research protocols, the frequently cited relationship between greater emotion-focused coping and poorer life outcomes is deemed invalid.
· Stanton, Parsa, and Austenfeld (2002) stated that “coping through emotional approach might be said to carry adaptive potential, the realization of which may depend on…the situational context, the interpersonal milieu, and attributes of the individual.”
· Emotional approach involves active movement toward versus away from a stressful encounter.
o Stanton, Kirk, Cameron, and Danoff-Burg (2000b) identified two related but distinct processes involved in approach-oriented emotion-focused coping. One involves emotional processing, or attempts to understand emotions, and a second reflects emotional expression, or free and intentional displays of feeling.
o Stanton, Kirk, Cameron, and Danoff-Burg (2000b) found that students who were dealing with a parent’s psychological or physical illness coped better with their stressors if they were assigned to sessions that matched their emotional approach tendencies.
o These findings suggest emotional preferences related to coping may interact with environmental contingencies to determine psychological outcomes.
· Most people seem to benefit, at least in the short run, from expressing their emotions in a meaningful way. And, emotional processing seems to become more adaptive as people learn more about what they feel and why they feel it.
· If we turned our attentions away from unpleasant feelings each time we experienced them, we would learn very little about how these feelings influence us and our friends (Salovey, Mayer, & Caruso, 2002). Thus approach coping may foster a better understanding of our experiences and direct our attention to central concerns (Frijda, 1994).
· On a neurobiological level LeDeoux suggests that under hassle-free life circumstances, our thinking is governed by the hippocampus, but during more stressful times, our thought processes, and hence, aspects of our coping, are ruled via the amygdala.
· Bar-On (1997, 2000) defines emotional intelligence as an array of noncogntive capabilities, competencies, and skills that help us deal with the demands of the environment.
o Measuring this type of emotional intelligence may not provide a researcher or practitioner with the new information that might help predict positive life outcomes.
· In 1960, Mowrer addressed the prevailing thoughts about emotions undermining intelligence by suggesting that emotion was, in fact, “a high order of intelligence.”
· In their original 1990 papers, Salovey and Mayer constructed a theoretical framework for an emotional intelligence. It was comprised of three core components: appraisal and expression, regulation, and utilization.
· The Salovey and Mayer four-branch ability model of emotional intelligence has been predicated on the belief that skills needed to reason about emotions and to use emotional material to assist reasoning can be learned.
o Branch 1 of the model involves skills needed to perceive and express feelings.
a. These skills in perceiving can be considered a threshold competency that needs to be acquired so that the other three emotional intelligence competencies can be developed.
o Branch 2 of this ability model concerns using emotions and emotional understanding to facilitate thinking.
o Branch 3 of emotional intelligence highlights the skills needed to foster an understanding of complex emotions, relationships among emotions, and relationships between emotions and behavioral consequences.
o Managing emotions, Branch 4, involves numerous mood regulation skills.
a. With too much regulation, a person may become emotionally suppressed. With too little, one’s emotional life becomes overwhelming.
b. People who become very good at regulating their moods also are able to share these skills with others.
· Each of the four dimensions of the ability model is assessed with two sets of tasks in a measure called the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2001).
· Practicing some or all of the sixteen skills associated with the four branches of emotional intelligence is robustly associated with positive interpersonal functioning.
· Lopes, Salovey, and Straus (2004) found that individuals with high-level skills in managing emotions were more likely to report positive relationships with other people, as well as perceived parental support, and less likely to report negative interactions with close friends.
o These associations remained statistically significant even controlling for significant Big Five personality traits and verbal intelligence.
o Findings such as these highlight the “added value” emotional intelligence has when trying to understand the nature of person-to-person interactions.
· There is some evidence that the amygdala and ventromedial pre-frontal cortex operating efficiently may be implicated in emotional intelligence (see Damasio, 1994).
· The extent to which we are able to make the most of our emotional experiences is determined in part by personal and environmental demands such as our health status, social surroundings, and cultural norms.
· It now is becoming clear that humans’ unique ability to monitor time across their entire span of life also may determine how much energy is dedicated to emotional goals.
· Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen has demonstrated that young people and their older counterparts manage emotion-laden material quite differently.
o Carstensen and her colleagues have found that there are age cohort effects for how we handle the positive and negative daily life experiences.
o Contrary to the fascination that young people have with future-oriented goals pertaining to acquiring information and expanding horizons, older people seem to orient to here-and-now goals that foster emotional meaning (Kennedy, Fung, & Carstensen, 2001).
· It is quite likely (95% probability), when we experience an overwhelming emotional event, we will share the experience with a friend or family member within the same day of occurrence, typically in the first few hours (Rime, 1995).
· University of Texas psychologist Jamie Pennebaker broke ground on this research area by asking undergraduate research participants to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings in relation to their most traumatic life experience.
o The immediate effects of the two interventions were such that the experimental group was more distressed. Then, over time (beginning two weeks after the study), the members of emotional storytelling group experienced numerous health benefits, including fewer physician visits over the next year than the members of the control group.
· This procedure involving the mere act of written disclosure about emotional upheaval (what we call “emotional storytelling”) is now referred to as the Pennebaker Paradigm.
· People, who typically do not have the tendency (or skills) to work with the emotionally-laden content of life, may benefit the most from this means for processing intense negative emotions.
· It does appear that disinhibition (i.e., a letting go of emotional-related stress), cognitive processing, and social dynamics (when disclosure occurs outside of the laboratory) are at work (Niederhoffer & Pennebaker, 2002) when someone experiencing emotional upheaval is sharing their story.