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Emotional self-regulation or regulation of emotion is the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed. It can also be defined as extrinsic and intrinsic processes responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions. Emotional regulation is a complex process that involves initiating, inhibiting, or modulating one's state or behavior in a given situation – for example the subjective experience (feelings), cognitive responses (thoughts), emotion-related physiological responses (for example heart rate or hormonal activity), and emotion-related behavior (bodily actions or expressions). Functionally, emotional regulation can also refer to processes such as the tendency to focus one's attention to a task and the ability to suppress inappropriate behavior under instruction. Emotional regulation is a highly significant function in human life.
Every day, people are continually exposed to a wide variety of potentially arousing stimuli. Inappropriate, extreme or unchecked emotional reactions to such stimuli would impede functional fit within society, therefore people must engage in some form of emotion regulation almost all of the time. Generally speaking, emotional dysregulation has been defined as difficulties in controlling the influence of emotional arousal on the organization and quality of thoughts, actions, and interactions. Individuals who are emotionally dysregulated exhibit patterns of responding in which there is a mismatch between their goals, responses, and/or modes of expression, and the demands of the social environment. For example, there is a significant association between emotion dysregulation and symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating pathology, and substance abuse. Higher levels of emotion regulation, including emotional overarousal or underarousal, expression of emotions are likely to be related with both high levels of social competence and expression socially appropriate emotions.
Social Interactions 
People intuitively mimic facial expressions; it is a fundamental part of healthy functioning. Similarities across cultures in regards to nonverbal communication has prompted the debate that it is in fact a universal language. It can be argued that emotional regulation plays a key role in the ability to emit the correct responses in social situations. Humans have control over facial expressions both consciously and unconsciously: an intrinsic emotion program is generated as the result of a transaction with the world, which immediately results in an emotional response and usually a facial reaction. It is a well documented phenomenon that emotions have an effect on facial expression, but recent research has provided evidence that the opposite may also be true.
This notion would give rise to the belief that a person may not only control his emotion but in fact influence them as well. Emotional regulation focuses on providing the appropriate emotion in the appropriate circumstances. Some theories allude to the thought that each emotion serves a specific purpose in coordinating organismic needs with environmental demands (cole 1994). This skill, although apparent throughout all nationalities, has been shown to vary in successful application at different age groups. In experiments done comparing younger and older adults to the same unpleasant stimuli, older adults were able to regulate their emotional reactions in a way that seemed to avoid negative confrontation. These findings support the theory that with time people develop a better ability to regulate their emotions. This ability found in adults seems to better allow individuals to react in what would be considered a more appropriate manner in some social situations, permitting them to avoid adverse situations that could be seen as detrimental.
In agitated states 
There are numerous instances of emotional self-regulation when in an agitated state. This would certainly be true of the 3 year old child who cries when he does not get what he wants. It would also be true of the seven year old who waits patiently to go to the toy section of the department store, while his mother looks at sheets.
The seven year old has learned what the 3 year old has not. He has learned to regulate and control his frustration because he knows that if he does he will be rewarded, this is an example of a learned behavior.
Children who demonstrate knowledge of learned behaviors are more likely to maintain attention and composure when working on difficult tasks. Children who can’t properly regulate their emotions run the risk of becoming social outcasts. Such social ineptitude is caused by continual and sustained absence of proper ER and is accumulative.
How people deal with the emotion of anger is most revealing. People who properly regulate their emotions when they are angry may choose to let their frustration out in healthy ways; like exercising, or writing a letter about how they feel. Poor regulators don’t. Poor regulators tend to not consider such options as good enough and therefore lash out (in sometimes violent manners) because they lack the ability/skills to state how they feel in any other way.
Some people use meditation and other stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness to help calm and soothe themselves and to maintain or regain composure. For some, prayer and religious reflection are used in similar fashion.
A commonly suggested method for calming younger people is the "count to 20" method, which involves slowly taking deep breaths. Sometimes a so-called "time out" (or a long walk, see Exercise section) is necessary or helpful to cool the nerves/emotions.
Some people learn how to control their facial expressions and have an internal cooling down method. Sometimes all it takes is a little common sense to put feelings into perspective and overcome the bad experience.
Self-regulation of emotional stress 
According to Yu. V. Scherbatykh, emotional stress in situations like school examinations can be reduced by engaging in self-regulating activities prior to the task being performed. To study the influence of self-regulation on mental and physiological processes under exam stress, Shcerbatykh conducted a test with an experimental group of 28 students (of both sexes) and a control group of 102 students (also of both sexes).
In the moments before the examination, situational stress levels were raised in both groups from what they were in quiet states. In the experimental group, participants engaged in three self-regulating techniques (concentration on respiration, general body relaxation, and the creation of a mental image of successfully passing the examination). During the examination, the anxiety levels of the experimental group were lower than that of the control group. Also, the percent of unsatisfactory marks in the experimental group was 1.7 times less than in the control group. From this data, Scherbatykh concluded that the application of self-regulating actions before examinations helps to significantly reduce levels of emotional strain, which can help lead to better performance results.
There are three possibilities for how a child’s self-regulation is formed. Some theorists argue that it is formed based solely on the child and how good the child is at emotionally self-regulating. Other theorists believe that our ability to regulate our emotions and behaviors are formed during school time. Many theorists claim that the ability is developed as early as the preschool years. They believe that the start of formal schooling is a critical point at which a child’s performance at school has lasting effects that matter for their academic success. The last point argued by theorists is that emotion regulation is determined by the child’s socioeconomic status. Poverty is argued to have a negative impact on young children's emotional development by increasing infants’ risk of exposure to a set of prenatal and perinatal factors that negatively effect their neurological, attentional, and affective development. It is necessary to note that most young children do not develop emotional and behavioral difficulty.
Effects of low self regulation 
With a failure in emotional regulation there is a rise in psychosocial and emotional dysfunctions caused by traumatic experiences due to an inability to regulate emotions. These traumatic experiences typically happen in grade school and are sometimes associated with bullying. Children who can’t properly self-regulate express their volatile emotions in a variety of ways, including screaming if they don't have their way, lashing out with their fists, or bullying other children. Such behaviors often elicit negative reactions from the social environment, which, in turn, can exacerbate or maintain the original regulation problems over time, a process termed cumulative continuity. These children are more likely to have conflict based relationships with their teachers and other children. This can lead to more severe problems such as an impaired ability to adjust to school and predicts school dropout many years later. Children who fail to properly self-regulate grow as teenagers with more emerging problems. Their peers begin to notice this “immaturity”, and these children are often excluded from social groups and teased and harassed by their peers. This “immaturity” certainly causes some teenagers to become social outcasts in their respective social groups, causing them to lash out in angry and potentially violent ways. Being teased or being an outcast in your teenage years is especially damaging and could lead to a dysfunctional future, which is why it is extremely important to inculcate emotional self-regulation in children as early as possible.
In adults 
There are many categories through which people (primarily adults) can control or regulate their emotions, which can be further divided into other subcategories. There are also specific points before and after the emotion has been triggered. The two main strategies one can employ to regulate their emotions are:
- Antecedent-focused strategies and
- Response focused strategies.
Antecedent-Focused Strategies refer to the things one does before they experience a certain emotion and can influence their behavior and physiological responses. This is basically when a person knows that certain stimuli can trigger negative emotions and chooses to avoid them. Response Focused strategies refers to what happens after the emotion has already been triggered and what the person might do to conceal the said emotion. As stated earlier, there are different stages that an individual experiences during the process of regulating emotions as they develop, five of them to be exact:
- Selection of the Situation
- Modification of the Situation
- Deployment of Attention
- Change of Cognition
- Response Modulation
The selection of the situation refers to the situation the person chooses to be involved in that might cause her to react emotionally. Next, modification of the situation is when the circumstances of the situation can be made to soften its emotional impact. Thirdly, Deployment of Attention is the stage where a person chooses to focus on other parts of the situation at hand. Change of cognition is the way the person decides to interpret the situation like looking at the advantages of the situation or even putting it in context of other bigger events (i.e., looking at the bigger picture). Lastly, response modulation is the way a person reacts after the situation has already occurred by trying to sway them. Obviously, selection of a situation to change of cognition are associated with antecedent-focused strategies while only response modulation is a response focused strategy.
There are many strategies one can use to regulate their emotions; two of them are
Reappraisal is when a person changes the way they think about a specific emotion in order to lessen its impact. Reappraisal comes much earlier in the Emotional Regulation process, while Suppression is a means to restrain any external signs of the emotion and occurs after the emotion has happened. These two methods of concealing emotions have different consequences; the affective consequence, cognitive consequence and social consequence.
In Reappraisal no negative Affective effects are present. There are decreased expressive behavior but no “observable” physiological consequences. Affective Consequences of Suppression, however, include increased physiological activation (i.e. during a study, the suppressed individuals has more blood vessel constriction than the control group.) and decreased expressive behavior (similar to Reappraisal).
It should also be mentioned that people using Reappraisal show no signs of disgust while the Suppressed group exhibited disgust. The Cognitive Consequences of Reappraisal were that it had no effects on memory at all: the memories of people that use Reappraisal stayed the same. The effects of people utilizing suppression were mostly negative.
The Social Consequences of each approach are markedly different. The social consequences of the reappraisal approach were much more positive than those of the suppression approach. In Reappraisal there was a decrease in negative expressive behavior and it didn’t affect positive expressive behavior negatively and at times it even increased it People who have utilized Suppression have been shown to exhibit lack of concern or interest in conversations and lack of responsiveness. Suppressors also tended to exhibit signs linked to lying and Interpersonal Deception in that there is a containment of true feelings. While in suppression, the positive and negative expressive behavior both decreased. Another disadvantage or consequence of Suppression is it takes a lot of energy that could be used to do other things, which might cause distraction from other things people could be concentrating on.
As people age, their affect – the way they react to emotions – also changes, either positively or negatively. Studies show that positive affect increases as a person grows from adolescence to the mid 70s. Negative affect, on the other hand, decreases until the mid 70s. Studies also show that emotions differ in adulthood particularly affect (positive or negative). Although some studies found that affect decreases with age, this one concluded that adults in their middle age experience more positive affect and less negative affect than younger adults. Positive affect was also higher for men than women while the negative affect was higher for women than it was for men and also for single people. A reason that older people – middle adulthood – might have less negative affect is because they have overcome, "the trials and vicissitudes of youth, they may increasingly experience a more pleasant balance of affect, at least up until their mid-70s". Positive affect might rise during middle age but towards the later years of life – the 70s – it begins to decline while negative affect also does the same. This might be due to failing health, reaching the end of their lives and the death of friends and relatives.
Affective chronometry 
In addition to baseline levels of positive and negative affect, studies have found individual differences in the time-course of emotional responses to stimuli. The temporal dynamics of emotional regulation, also known as affective chronometry, include two key variables in the emotional response process: rise time to peak emotional response, and recovery time to baseline levels of emotion. Studies of affective chronometry typically separate positive and negative affect into distinct categories, as previous research has shown (despite some correlation) the ability of humans to experience changes in these categories independently of one another. Affective chronometry research has been conducted on clinical populations with anxiety, mood, and personality disorders, but is also utilized as a measurement to test the effectiveness of different therapeutic techniques (including mindfulness training) on emotional dysregulation.
Exercise is a widespread method for emotional regulation that works for almost everyone. Exercise has been shown to have definite cognitive effects by altering brain chemistry. Animal studies have shown that norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in emotion, is altered in the frontal cortex and hippocampus after exercising. The change in norepinephrine levels in the brain due to exercise seems to have an effect on mood similar to those of antidepressants. Exercise has also been shown to help individuals deal with stress by “acting on the neurohormones that govern the stress response”. This effect on the neurohormones increases one’s threshold for stress, making the stresses of life seem more manageable.
The changes in brain chemistry due to exercise have important implications for the management of mental health disorders. In some instances, exercise has been shown to be more effective in the treatment of depression than medication. One study that analyzed longitudinal gains over a two-month period after exercising period produced results with even more positive implications for the use of exercise in emotional regulation. After this two-month period, individuals indicated they felt less emotional distress and experienced a decrease in perceived stress. An increase in the ability to control behavior was also shown, with behaviors ranging from cigarette smoking to making appointments on time, all showing improvement.
Developmental psychology 
The emergence of emotional regulation is a slow gradual process over the course of development. At first, the child relies heavily on mediation from external parties, such as the primary caregiver, to co-regulate his or her emotions, such as when an upset infant requires the attentive mother to calm them down. Parent-child attachment relationships give way to By 6 months of age, researchers believe infants show the first signs of emotional self-regulation, likely as a result of "downloading", or internalizing, their caregivers' emotional regulation "programs". At this age, they can self-soothe and also self-distract to avoid what has upset them. Between ages 1–2, children distract themselves from distressing stimuli by averting attention more and more. By then end of the first year, infants begin to adopt new strategies to decrease negative arousal. These strategies can include rocking themselves, chewing on objects, or moving away from things that upset them. Toddlers this young have also been observed attempting to suppress anger or sadness by knitting their brow or compressing their lips. However, one thing that toddlers find near impossible to regulate is fear. As a result of this, they often find ways to express fear in a way that attracts the comfort and attention of caregivers. Over the years, children increasingly manage negative emotions by talking with others and negotiating ways to resolve situations, showing sophistication in emotion regulation. Studies have shown that the development of ER is affected by the emotional regulation children observe in parents and caretakers, the emotional climate in the home, and the reaction of parents and caretakers to the child's emotions For example, with preschoolers, parents (or other close companions) help teach self-regulation methods by distracting children from unpleasant events (like a vaccination shot) or helping them understand frightening events. Regulation of emotions can also be important in the development of morality in children. An example of this can be when parents bring attention to (and try to promote) the uneasiness a child feels after they (the child) hurt somebody or break a rule. In this case, they parent wants the child to sympathize with the person to which they have caused distress while at the same time feel guilty about their actions (so that they are less likely to repeat them). One unfortunate finding however is that children who are frequently exposed to negative emotion at home (regardless of whether it is directed at them or not) often display high levels of negative emotion which they have difficulty regulating.
It has been suggested by some that neurological changes confer such maturity in regulation over the course of development, particularly maturation of the frontal lobes, thought to be essential for managing attention and inhibiting thoughts and behaviors.
Decision making 
Identification of our emotional self-regulating process can facilitate in the decision making process. Current literature on emotion regulation identifies that humans characteristically make efforts in controlling emotion experiences. There is then a possibility that our present state emotions can be altered by emotional regulation strategies resulting in the possibility that different regulation strategies could have different decision implications.
Miniaturization of expression (in solitary conditions) 
In solitary conditions, emotional regulation can include a miniaturization effect, in which common outward expressive patterns are replaced with toned down versions of expression. Unlike other situations, in which physical expression (and its regulation) serve a social purpose (i.e. conforming to display rules or revealing emotion to outsiders), solitary conditions require no reason for emotions to be outwardly expressed (although intense levels of emotion can bring out noticeable expression anyway). The idea behind this is that as people get older, they learn that the purpose of outward expression (to appeal to other people), is not necessary in situations in which there is no one to appeal to. As a result, the level of emotional expression can be lower in these solitary situations.
Neural basis 
The development of functional magnetic resonance imaging has allowed for the study of emotion regulation on a biological level. Specifically, research over the last decade strongly suggests that there is a neural basis. Sufficient evidence has correlated emotion regulation to particular patterns of prefrontal activation. These regions include the orbital prefrontal cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Two additional brain structures that have been found to contribute are the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex. Each of these structures are involved in various facets of emotion regulation and irregularities in one or more regions and/or interconnections among them are affiliated with failures of emotion regulation. An implication to these findings is that individual differences in prefrontal activation predict the ability to perform various tasks in aspects of emotion regulation.
See also 
- Developmental psychology
- Emotional dysregulation
- Empathic concern
- Regulation of emotion
- Self-regulation theory
- Social neuroscience
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