James J. Gross, Emotion Regulation: Past, Present, Future. Cognition and Emotion
A critical review of James J. Gross, “Emotion Regulation: Past, Present, Future”. Cognition and Emotion, 1999, 13 (5), p.551-573.
This paper will discuss James J. Gross’ article “Emotion Regulation; Past, Present, Future”. In this article the author asserts that there are five theoretical challenges to emotion regulation investigations and offers insight on future directions in research. However before these five can be expanded and explored Gross attempts to define and re-define basic definitions. Furthermore, Gross gives the reader a brief overview of the history of research on emotions and the different approaches various models provide. After summarising Gross’ main points and ideas this paper will try to evaluate the importance of this article and its objectives.
As a starting point to his article Gross uses the psychoanalytic tradition. The foundation for this tradition is “the conflict between biologically based impulses and internal and external restraining factors” (Gross, 1999, p.552). The author argues that the relationship between psychoanalytic methods and emotion regulation is closer than a mutual interest with impulse regulation. Gross states that Freud’s theory relies on the concept of anxiety regulation and that Freud uses anxiety as a “catch all term for negative emotion” (Erdelyi, 1993; cited in Gross, 1999). He also explains Freud’s structural model of personality and his conception of anxiety in which Freud used ego as the defence mechanism that regulates anxiety. Furthermore, he writes about more recent studies which are based on the psychoanalytic approach and also points out their weaknesses such as dependence on correlational and experimental techniques rather than clinical methods.
Gross next examines the stress and coping tradition. This tradition is thought to originate in work of Cannon and Selye (1956, 1974; cited in Gross, 1999) who suggested that organisms generate similar stress responses to various challenges and that stress responses might vary depending on the stressor duration. After the war, research interest moved from the physical challenges to psychological stressors. It was suggested that some cognitive processes are necessary to change an outside experience into an experience that has a meaning to an individual. The article implies the need for a division among situation evaluation (primary appraisal), a view of ones own capacities to respond (secondary appraisal) and attempt to manage the stress (coping). Gross also writes about the distinction between problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. The author mentions that this last distinction was an important foundation to the research of emotion regulation.
In the next part of the article Gross writes about contemporary concerns which include defining emotion, emotion regulation and an individuals’ emotion regulatory aspirations and tactics. He helps to give perspective by looking at emotion from an evolutionary standpoint. Gross asserts that emotion, biologically, could be adaptations to ones own environment and the dangers inherent. Gross defines the phrase “emotion regulation as ambiguous” (Gross, 1999, p. 557) because it might refer to regulation by emotion (behaviour, thoughts, physiology) or regulation of emotion (how emotions are regulated). He favours the latter definition for the reason that the first meaning of emotion regulation is equal to emotion. Gross then comes to the division between how one influences their own behaviour and how one influences the behaviour in others. He dislikes these divisions being grouped as a single component of emotion regulation as he believes they can be separately distinguished (Gross, 1999). Gross writes about a third distinction concerning conscious and unconscious emotion regulation. He implies that emotion regulation should be thought of as a continuum of processes which differ in the level to which they are controlled or effortless.
Gross believes the goals of emotion regulation will vary depending on the situation and one’s assessment of the situation. He therefore believes that these goals are contextual. However, Gross disconnects the goals from the processes used to realise these goals. He writes about a process model of emotion generation which includes situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change and response modulation. According to this model, emotion activates with the estimation of external or internal emotional signals. A particular estimation sets off a series of behavioural, physiological and experiential emotion response tendencies. These tendencies might be transformed and give the definitive shape to reveal emotional responses.
In the section titled “Contemporary research” Gross writes about the present emotion regulation research, which includes the basic processes that researchers were interested in (reappraisal and suppression) and individual differences in emotion regulation (rumination and repression). Gross briefly explains what each term means and describes previous experiments concerned with these terms. He also writes about improvements that future research should take into account when exploring emotion regulation and these processes.
The author concludes the article by considering theoretical challenges and future directions for emotion regulation research. The first challenge Gross writes about is specifying exactly what is regulated and if the emotion regulation takes place at all. Next the author asks “how can one tell when emotion is regulated” (Gross, 1999, p.564). Gross, dismisses the idea of emotion always being directly or indirectly regulated and suggests that “a conception of relative regulation is more appropriate” (Gross, 1999, p.565). In his paragraph on what level of analysis is require the author seems to circumvent the question and instead states his fondness of the affect of suppression of both positive and negative emotions. Finally, Gross writes about the relationship between emotion regulation and other regulatory processes like mood regulation or thought control. However, he highlights that the distinction between these processes is necessary.
A great deal of time is spent in this article on defining and re-defining aspects of emotion and the regulation of emotion. While this is necessary to provide to the reader an informed base on which to develop the purpose, the author misses some important opportunities to input his own views. The majority of this work is devoted to compartmentalising and overall one gets the impression that no real progress is made. The article reads like a preface, and only a few opinionated sentences punctuate each section. However, the reader could ask was this the objective? Perhaps Gross intends only to provide this construct in which further research could pursue with more acuteness. Therefore, in my opinion Gross accomplishes his intentions stated in the abstract.
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Gross, James J. (1999) Emotion Regulation: Past, Present, Future. Cognition and Emotion, 13 (5), p.551-573