I am back for yet another round of research on the mind, its impacts on us, and how it changes over time. This week I am going to look into emotions, our control over them, and how mindsets impact our perception.
What did I cover in my previous rounds? (click on the red text to read them)
Round 1: what is a mindset, different kinds of mindsets, healthy vs unhealthy mindsets, how much our mindsets matter
Round 2: can we change mindsets (intentionally vs unintentionally), how does self-awareness impact ability to change, how do mindsets change with maturity
Nice, now let's get into this week's research
"Whether you think you can or think you can't--you're right." -Henry Ford (5)
Psychology Today uses the following scenario to demonstrate one instance where emotions would be flexible, not fixed, and would rely entirely on how you interpret your situation:
"He just insulted you and you feel your blood pressure rise. For a minute, as your body floods with resentment, your chance of staying calm is slim. You take a deep breath. Turning away expressionless, you muster all the spiritual benevolence you can, and for once you don't counter-attack. You say something impressively forgiving and dignified.
Do you mean it? Maybe not, but it works. He, braced for a fight, is thrown off balance, and suddenly you feel less threatened, safer in who you are and where you stand. Now, staying calm and forgiving in the encounter gets easier. Resisting that initial pull toward retaliation was hard. At first you were wobbly, but then it becomes effortless. From wobbly to stable--it's the ten-minute equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle." (1)
In this demonstration, they show how ignoring that desire to retort back with an angry, not-well-thought-out quip and replying with something dignified and forgiving can change your perspective of how an event unfolded. That is, instead of rising to the challenge of an insult, you can brush it off, and by doing so you will slowly feel calmer, safer, and more willing to forgive.
There are many theories of emotional control, but I am here to highlight two. First, there is the Total Control Theory of Emotions. This one states that "in any situation you have complete control and flexibility in how you respond. No matter what's going on, you can choose whether to be angry or calm, resentful or forgiving-it's all up to you." This theory, however, comes with a lot of assumption around the obvious 'right' way to be. That is, if you are resentful instead of forgiving, you're wrong. (1) This theory can be related to a jukebox: you get to pick the tune you listen to.
To take control of one's emotions, a popular method is Cognitive Therapy, which states that you can control your emotions by viewing events and circumstances differently. That is, by changing how we see something, we can change our emotions, actions, and feelings. (1,2,)
Inversely, there is the No Control Theory. This one says "You feel what you feel and there's nothing you or anyone can do about it." There are few people who genuinely advocate for it or believe in it; instead, we simply imply it in things we say day by day. For example, when you ask someone why they're being so aggressive and they reply "I'm just in a mood, get used to it." Does that person really believe they have no control over their emotions? Maybe not, but in that instant they did. (1)
A key difference between these two is the number of emotions we assume we are able to read in any given moment. In the Total Control Theory, we assume you could feel any given emotion depending on how you spin your situation. In the No Control Theory, we assume you are incapable of feeling any emotion other than the one you are feeling currently. (1)
The truth probably is somewhere between these two extremes. In other words, some emotions are always going to be harder to access in certain situations regardless of how much you change your perception of something, but also emotions are not automatically pre-determined and unchangeable. (1)
Over time, many studies have been performed on emotional regulation (control) and how well we can do so. A key insight found from these studies is that people can and do regulate their emotions through the increasing of positive emotions and the decreasing of negative emotions. Inversely, we also do the reverse (increasing of negative emotions and decreasing of positive) in certain situations, such as when we need to comfort someone who's feeling blue, or when we need to "get angry" to get ready for a big sports match. (2)
Another key insight is that there are overwhelmingly numerous methods of emotional regulation. A popular approach of viewing emotions is the one described above in Cognitive Therapy. (1,2)
A final insight that scientists have uncovered is that the strategy of emotional regulation impacts its success: thinking differently about something (reappraisal) and simply hiding emotions you feel (suppression, experiential avoidance) extract very different results. Reappraisal has been found to genuinely reduce negative emotions where suppression actually raised participants' blood pressure. Additionally, suppression has been found to not only negative impact the suppressor, but also those around the person suppressing their emotions. Think of how people say "don't cry" or "boys don't cry": do these sayings really help you to not feel sad or cry? (2, 3)
In conclusion, yes! Emotions can be controlled. However, there are healthy and unhealthy methods of doing so. Additionally, your emotions don't always need to be controlled or changed, and there are benefits to letting them go! For example, letting your anger fuel you to advocate for something you're passionate about, using your happiness to build connections. Emotions can be harnessed for the better and for the worse, and they can be controlled for the better and for the worse.
In terms of actions, a study from the 1980s has shown that perhaps the brain starts an action before the owner of that brain is aware of the decision to start it. Additionally, a recent study in Yale argues that (for rapid decisions specifically) the subconscious makes a decision and tricks the conscious mind into thinking it made the choice. (4) However, there is a widely-spread theory that states there is a stimulus (input, something that happens) and a response (output, what we do in reaction to it). Between these two there is a space where we have the power to decide how to respond. We produce from this response a behaviour. (5,6,7,10)
An example is seeing a cookie. Seeing the cookie is your stimulus (it stimulates one or more of the senses). Here, you can make a decision to eat the cookie or to leave it, this is your decision time. The response is how you actually take action (leaving the cookie or eating it).
An example to show how this can become conditioning (behavior, instinct, unconscious response) is a well-known one about Pavlov and his dogs. In his experiment, he conditioned a group of dogs to salivate at the sounding of a dinner bell. To begin, he had the stimulus (the dog food), and when presented with this stimulus (the dog food), the dogs would unconditionally salivate. He began to ring a bell when the dogs were fed, and over time the dogs would salivate at the sounding of the bell without the presence of the original stimulus (the dog food). It had become a conditioned response to the ringing bell. (7)
As you can see, both feelings and decisions can, in theory, be controlled. For both, however, a certain level of self-awareness is required. The first step to both of these is assessing a situation and seeing it differently, or seeing it from all sides. To react calmly in situations, you need to harness that decision-making time period.
(1) - https://www.psychologytoday.co...rol-your-emotions-or
(2) - https://www.bigquestionsonline...ontrol-our-emotions/
(3) - https://www.counselling-direct...houghts-and-feelings
(4) - https://www.irishexaminer.com/...-and-act-465568.html
(5) - https://medium.com/the-mission...ormance-1b08aa4c2d97
(6) - http://www.indiana.edu/~p10134...tionary/stimresp.htm
(7) - https://www.psychologistworld....ulus-response-theory
(8) - image - https://www.wikihow.com/Control-Your-Mind
(9) - image - https://examinedexistence.com/...g-emotional-control/
(10) - http://ib.bioninja.com.au/stan...imulus-response.html
Alright guys, that's all for this week! Thank you for reading to the end. Stay tuned for next week when I will be researching:
-How we can lessen the impacts of emotional outbursts, and why they happen
-What makes us snap at others, what makes us cry
-How mindsets impact productivity, why procrastination is so popular
Nice. As always, any feedback (positive or negative) is greatly appreciated. See you guys next week