Back to basics: a naturalistic assessment of the experience and regulation of emotion

Emotion. 2014 Oct;14(5):878-91. doi: 10.1037/a0037231. Epub 2014 Jul 7.


Emotion regulation research links regulatory responding to important outcomes in psychological well-being, physical health, and interpersonal relations, but several fundamental questions remain. As much of the previous research has addressed generalized regulatory habits, far less is known about the ways in which individuals respond to emotions in daily life. The literature is particularly sparse in explorations of positive emotion regulation. In the current study, we provide an assessment of naturalistic experiences and regulation of emotion, both positive and negative in valence. Using an electronic experience sampling methodology, participants reported on their use of 40 regulatory strategies in response to 14 emotions for 10 consecutive days. On average, participants used 15 different regulatory strategies in response to negative emotions over this time, most frequently relying on acceptance, behavioral activation, and rumination. Participants used a similarly large repertoire of strategies, approximately 16 total, in response to positive emotions, particularly savoring, future focus, and behavioral activation. Participants' mood ratings following strategy use, however, indicated that the most frequently used strategies were often not the most effective strategies. The results of this study provide estimates of the frequency and effectiveness of a large number of emotion regulation strategies in response to both negative and positive emotions. Such findings characterize naturalistic emotion regulation, and estimates of normative emotion regulation processes are imperative to determining the ways in which deviations (e.g., small emotion regulation repertoires, insufficient attention to regulation of positive emotions) impact emotional functioning.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Neuroticism
  • Sampling Studies