Marie Vandekerckhove, Christian von Scheve,
Sven Ismer, Susanne Jung, and Stefanie Kronast
What seems so compelling about the regulation of emotions to research-
ers in many different disciplines is that within this theme, questions con-
cerning the alleged antipodes nature and nurture or biology and culture
are conﬂating in most obvious ways. We suspect that this is precisely the
reason why emotion regulation has recently attracted such an exceptional
attention in a scientiﬁc environment that is characterized by a growing
interest in bridging disciplinary boundaries. Without a doubt, the topic
of emotion regulation has experienced a boom at the beginning of the
21st century, with many important contributions coming from academic
disciplines as diverse as psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, psycho-
therapy, and sociology—not to mention the more popular writings and
Research on emotions in the past 20 years has increasingly portrayed
emotions as highly functional phenomena of crucial evolutionary signiﬁ-
cance and biological grounding—in individual as well as in social and
cultural terms. Clearly, this has not always been the case. From the Greek
philosophers to the Scottish moralists, emotions have often been consid-
ered as disturbing and irritating occurrences in human life, in particu-
lar in domains requiring calm analysis, deep thinking, or polite manners.
However, in other areas emotions have never ceased to be “that certain
something,” more or less legitimately serving as most compulsive means
and ends of human action.
Although emotions are ubiquitous in human affairs, it seems not too
bold to claim that what has separated “man” from “animal” in many so-
cieties and cultures till today is the potential and the ability to keep one’s
emotions under control. That is, to hide them from and adapt them to
these affairs, not to forget oneself when faced with indignity, to keep calm
Culture, Social Necessity, and
even after 20 minutes on the telephone service line, or to be courteous at
another boring dinner party. This social necessity to keep emotions under
control seems to arise, for one thing, from emotions’ compelling nature
to direct peoples’ actions, either as an urging feeling to act (“action
tendency”) or as a strong motive in itself (e.g., getting relief from one’s
anger) (Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall, & Zhang, 2007; Frijda, 1986; Loewen-
stein & Lerner, 2003).
If this is true, then there must be something about emotions and emo-
tional behavior that is potentially dangerous or at least undesirable from a
social or societal point of view. This, in turn, would mean that emotions’
evolutionary founded “wisdom of the ages” (Lazarus, 1991, p. 820) is
not as timeless as it seems, and, indeed, emotions and emotion-based
actions are notoriously suspected to undermine the “wisdom” of social
order and cultural integrity and to promote deviant behavior—they are
thus supposed to be kept at bay in many different contexts and for many
different reasons (see Gross, Richards, & John, 2006). The same can be
said from an individual point of view: because emotions frequently occur
outside of conscious awareness (Barrett, Ochsner, & Gross, 2007; Wink-
ielman & Berridge, 2004) and are—at least in part—equally involuntarily
expressed to others (Kappas, 1997; Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez
Dols, 2003) they may well foil consciously pursued individual goals, for
example in a poker game, in concentrating on a difﬁcult math exam, or
when trying to conceal a lie (Ekman, 2004).
Changing environmental demands change the contingencies of our
emotions. Not all emotional reactions are always adaptive and beneﬁcial,
and this seems even more true for modern societies. Emotions are, so to
speak, evolutionary relics that may well go over the top in a number of
situations. They seem to “happen to us” and to have us in their grip; they
let us do things that we often enough come to regret at later times. But
emotions are not reﬂexes—they are more like an alarm bell that prompts
for action or further investigation of the cause of the alarm. Thus, they
are also subject to potential change and revision: the ability to regulate
emotions allows people to keep them in line with prevailing environmen-
tal conditions and socio-cultural demands.
This might lead to the impression that the social and individual func-
tions ascribed to emotions are somewhat restricted to primeval environ-
ments and ancestral challenges, that they are a mere biological inheritance,
rigid and increasingly useless in human affairs. But nothing could be more
misleading. Research on emotions has continuously emphasized that they
are indispensable components of many intraindividual functions, for exam-
ple, cognitive, physiological, phenomenological, or behavioral (Levenson,
1999). They are equally important in social encounters by contributing to
2 Regulating Emotions
the formation or disruption of social relationships, the emergence of social
bonds, and the coordination of social action and interaction (Frank, 1988;
Frijda & Mesquita, 1994; Keltner & Haidt, 1999). Moreover, recent re-
search indicates that they are also involved in most complex societal func-
tions, such as the enforcement and maintenance of social norms and social
order (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004; Thoits, 2004). Thus, the question seems
to be legitimate whether “emotions [are] ever to be regulated?” (Gross,
1999, p. 552).
How is it, then, that emotions are still considered somewhat awkward
at times—despite these well known individual and social functions? If
all emotions and emotion eliciting conditions were the same in all cul-
tures and societies, then there probably would be not much fuzz about
emotion regulation in cultural context. But research on emotions has not
only revealed different functions of emotions with respect to their bio-
logical foundations, but at the same time continuously highlighted their
variability, ﬂexibility, and adaptability—in particular with respect to
these functions (e.g., decoupling stimulus from response and accentuat-
ing behavioral options rather than directly causing behavior, see Scherer,
1994, and Baumeister et al., 2007) but also in view of their elicitation and
experience (see Mesquita & Markus, 2004, and Turner & Stets, 2006,
for an overview). What is considered disgusting in one culture may be
highly appreciated in another, what is considered embarrassing at work
may be highly welcome in family life, and what evokes shame in one cul-
ture may elicit pride in another one.
The debate on whether emotions are evolutionary hard-wired reactions
to environmental challenges or outcomes of social and cultural practices
is almost as old as research on emotions. Whatever the ultimate answer to
this question might be, the fact seems to be that there is considerable cul-
tural and intrasocietal variability in the eliciting conditions of emotions,
their experience, and expression, in particular in view of self-conscious or
“higher social” emotions such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride
(Mesquita & Karasawa, 2004; Tangney & Fischer, 1995).
One path to answering the above stated question might therefore be
found in the assumption that social and cultural representations of emo-
tions have evolved in many different ways, whereas their underlying bio-
logical architecture—the affect system—has largely remained unchanged
and thus universal, and that emotion regulation serves to adapt and ﬁne-
tune this system to the respective socio-cultural contexts (cf. Ochsner &
Gross, 2007; Mesquita & Albert, 2007). In line with this reasoning is
a deﬁnition of emotion regulation as “the process by which individuals
inﬂuence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they
experience and express these emotions” (Gross, 1998, p. 275).
Regulating Emotions 3
And this is—roughly speaking—the path this volume is following. It
seems almost clear to us that in view of more or less disparately evolved
socio-cultural systems also the causes, occasions, techniques, and goals of
emotion regulation differ between and even within the distinct social and
cultural contexts. However, this is only one side of the coin. The other
side is that intercultural differences in emotions in turn beg the question
of how these variations are brought about and implemented in a speciﬁc
socio-cultural environment. A number of articles in the present volume
suggest that emotion regulation as such is a crucial factor in bringing
about intercultural and intrasocietal differences in emotions. In adopting
the idea that culture and society are fundamentally shaping and thereby
“regulating” emotions, one-factor models of emotion regulation are
providing answers to these questions in conceptualizing emotion regula-
tion as a process that is not limited to an actual emotion episode, but
rather extends to ontogenetic development and socio-cultural evolution
(Campos, Frankel, & Camras, 2004). According to this view, emotions
are already regulated prior to their actual elicitation in that they (and
their social representations) are simply more salient, more despised, more
sought after or more avoided in one culture than in another (cf. Mesquita
& Leu, in press).
There is a further intriguing aspect to the one-factor view: If we had
to constantly and consciously monitor our emotions in view of their ap-
propriateness and social adequacy, we would soon run out of cognitive
resources in everyday life. Therefore, not only do different cultures and
social environments set the stage for the regulation of emotion and provide
corresponding goals, but they also actively and purposefully engage in reg-
ulative developmental processes through social institutions, for example,
socialization practices, the corroboration of social and individual goals,
belief systems, habits, and rituals, knowledge, or speciﬁc norms, rules,
and codes of conduct. They entail what in this volume is dubbed “auto-
matic emotion regulation.”
It was precisely this twofold relationship between an evolutionary and
biologically rooted affect system on the one hand, and highly differen-
tiated social and cultural concepts and representations of emotions on
the other hand that had motivated us as editors to marshal this interdis-
ciplinary overview on the regulation of emotion. The incentive for this
volume goes back to a workshop at the Center for Interdisciplinary Re-
search (ZiF) at Bielefeld University in 2004 that was hosted by the cent-
er’s research group on “Emotions as Bio-Cultural Processes.” The year
long work of this research group had mainly concentrated on identifying
linkages between biological and socio-cultural determinants of emotions
(cf. Markowitsch, Röttger-Rössler, & the ZiF-Research-Group, in press).
4 Regulating Emotions
It soon turned out that the many facets of emotion regulation are a major
factor in ﬁnding this linkage—from the point of view of almost all the
disciplines involved in the group: psychology, neuroscience, philosophy,
anthropology, sociology, and psychiatry.
However, the vivid discussions at the workshop have made it clear that
the distinct disciplines have considerable difﬁculties in mutually communi-
cating their concepts and approaches—if only on a semantic level in many
cases. For example, when psychologists talk about “emotion regulation”
(e.g., Gross & Thompson, 2007), sociologists are used to discuss “emo-
tion work” and “emotion management” (Hochschild, 1979; cf. Grandey,
2000); and when anthropologists refer to an emotional “ethos,” sociolo-
gists advance “social norms” and psychologists bring forward “represen-
tations” (cf. Mesquita & Leu, in press).
Thus, the aim of this volume ultimately is to bring together the different
disciplines involved in research on emotion regulation and to harbor an
interdisciplinary dialogue that sharpens each discipline’s understanding
and awareness of the respective paradigms. This dialogue is facilitated
by the main thread of the book, namely the question of how social and
cultural aspects of emotion regulation interact with regulatory processes
on the biological and psychological level. The contributors thereby deal
with the evolutionary assumptions implied by the volume’s title and at
the same time highlight the role of social and cultural requirements in the
adaptive regulation of emotion. Put in a nutshell: the articles in this col-
lection revolve around the basic question whether emotion “is ever not
regulated” (Gross, 1999, p. 565).
The volume is divided into four parts. The contributions in part one dis-
cuss conceptual and foundational issues of a bio-cultural perspective on
emotions. The articles in part two illustrate the role of culture and social
interaction in the development of emotion regulation. The chapters in part
three assess the consequences of potential conﬂicts between social and in-
dividual expectations, emotions, and emotion regulation from a psycho-
pathological perspective. Finally, the contributions in part four highlight
the socio-cultural environment as affecting and being affected by emotion
The ﬁrst part of the volume is introduced by Arvid Kappas who vividly
argues that emotion and emotion-control are part and parcel of the same
processes. According to Kappas, any scientiﬁcally viable theory of emo-
tion also has to be a theory of emotion-control, being able to predict for a
particular person in a particular event and context how he/she will react,
e.g., with regard to expressive behavior. Kappas criticizes current theories
for failing in this respect by merely invoking concepts such as display
rules, feeling rules, unknown social intentions, or idiosyncratic appraisals
Regulating Emotions 5
as straw men. He goes on to show that as long as the display rules, feeling
rules, etc. are not included in the boundaries of the emotion theories, it
will not be possible to make any predictions that could be tested in the
Iris Mauss, Silvia Bunge, and James Gross in their chapter are concerned
with the question of how socio-cultural contexts affect individuals’ emo-
tion regulation. Their analysis rests upon the fact that most prior research
on emotion regulation has focused on deliberate rather than automatic
forms of emotion regulation. From a socio-cultural point of view, they
argue, this is particularly unfortunate, since they suspect socio-cultural
factors to have a pervasive effect on emotion regulation through automatic
processes. Mauss, Bunge, and Gross start their argument by distinguishing
two types of emotion regulation: response-focused (which takes place after
an emotion is initiated) and antecedent-focused (which takes place before
an emotion is fully initiated) emotion regulation. They subsequently
review how socio-cultural contexts engender response- and antecedent-
focused automatic emotion regulation and how these two types of regu-
lation in turn affect individuals’ emotional responding and well-being.
They suggest that automatic emotion regulation is shaped by cultural
contexts providing the individual with implicit norms and automatized
practices that can be either situationally or emotionally cued. Impor-
tantly, they ﬁnd that antecedent-focused automatic regulation seems to
be relatively adaptive while response-focused automatic regulation seems
to be relatively maladaptive.
Claire Hofer and Nancy Eisenberg in their contribution review research
relevant to understanding the biological, that is, genetic and molecular,
bases of emotion regulation and the relations of emotion-related regula-
tion to socialization and developmental outcomes in several cultures. In
doing so, they give a concise overview of the biological makeup of effort-
ful control and self-regulation on the one hand, and the different envi-
ronmental inﬂuences on emotion regulation, in particular socialization
conditions, on the other hand. In addition, Hofer and Eisenberg focus
primarily, albeit not solely, on individual differences in measures of dispo-
sitional emotion-related self-regulation. Although they conclude in call-
ing for more efforts to be made to better measure emotion regulation and
related constructs, Hofer and Eisenberg emphasize that, although there
are differences among socialization beliefs and practices across cultures,
there is also some degree of universality in the processes involved in the
inﬂuence of socialization on emotion-related regulation.
Leading in the second part of this volume that shifts attention from
individual to interactional and developmental processes in emotion reg-
ulation, Gisela Trommsdorff and Fred Rothbaum seek to understand cul-
6 Regulating Emotions
tural differences in emotional regulation by examining differences in the
development of the self. They assume that emotion regulation is related to
a person’s self-construal and to his/her goals and in their comprehensive
review integrate evidence on culture-speciﬁc construals of the self as well
as on cultural differences in goal orientation. The processes and outcomes
of emotion regulation, they argue, should strongly depend upon these dif-
ferent conceptions of self and goals. To corroborate their argument, they
consider extensive evidence of cultural differences in child-rearing con-
ditions and socialization practices. Trommsdorff and Rothbaum clearly
show that common assumptions and ﬁndings from Western research on
emotion regulation that are often treated as universal are not quite so and
that a thorough understanding of emotion regulation can only rest on a
Phillip Shaver, Mario Mikulincer, and David S. Chun in their chapter
marshal an attachment theoretical approach to emotion regulation. At-
tachment theory (Bowlby, 1982) provides an understanding of the de-
velopmental origins of individual differences in emotion regulation, in
particular within close relationships. Originally based on studies con-
cerned with human infants’ emotional bonding with their mothers, at-
tachment theory has more recently moved towards analyzing emotional
attachments in adults and also to individual differences in emotion regu-
lation associated with different patterns of attachment styles. Shaver,
Mikulincer, and Chun outline attachment theory, review psychological
and neuropsychological research on attachment-related individual differ-
ences in emotion regulation, and show how security-related regulation
processes foster mental health and prosocial behavior. The theoretical
model they develop suggests that attachment security and the ability to
regulate emotion is closely associated with a variety of prosocial feelings
and caregiving behaviors: Secure attachments make it easier to focus and
meet others’ social needs, whereas insecure attachments interfere with
empathic perceptions of others’ needs and thus decrease the likelihood of
effective prosocial behavior.
Maria von Salisch in her contribution gives a detailed overview of the
developmental inﬂuences on the regulation of emotion, the socialization
of emotion regulation, and the development of interindividual differences.
Her analysis is based on a process model of emotion generation and de-
velops around four main themes that comprise the better part of devel-
opmental research on emotion regulation: the fundamental changes in
emotional development in childhood and adolescence; the multidimen-
sional development of emotion regulation; the shift from interpersonal
to intrapersonal emotion regulation; and the differential development of
emotion regulation. Her analysis of the available evidence culminates in
Regulating Emotions 7
an original transactional model of emotional development that puts the
four themes of emotion regulation under one overarching and integrative
The articles in part three of this volume focus on potential problems
and difﬁculties arising from the social expectations and individual needs
related to emotion regulation. They highlight probable consequences of
mismatches between socio-cultural expectations and individual emo-
tions and outline clinical and psychopathological implications. In doing
so, Pamela Cole, Tracy Dennis, Sarah Martin, and Sarah Hall take on
the developmental theme of the previous part and investigate the inter-
play of emotion regulation and the early development of psychological
competence and psychopathology. Because they assume emotional pro-
cesses to be inherently regulatory, Cole, Dennis, Martin, and Hall ﬁrst
discuss conceptual challenges of deﬁning and measuring emotion and dis-
tinguishing emotion regulation from emotion in regard to both typical
and atypical development in early childhood. They describe four speciﬁc
dimensions of emotion regulation that are pertinent to psychopathologi-
cal risk and can be inferred from behavioral observations. Referring to a
clinical case example of a young child with a major depressive disorder,
they present testable predictions about how children at risk for depres-
sion can be distinguished from typically developing children on the basis
of behavioral observations. Concluding, they provide a set of concepts
and suggest methods of measurement that can be used to test hypotheses
about individual differences in emotion regulation.
Pierre Philippot, Aurore Neumann, and Nathalie Vrielynck investigate
a dimension of emotional information processing that they deem relevant
for emotion regulation in general and for psychopathology in particular:
the speciﬁcity versus generality at which emotional information is pro-
cessed. Speciﬁcity in this model refers to the activation of detailed and
precise information about speciﬁc emotional experiences well circum-
scribed in episodes lasting less than a day. Generality in turn refers to the
activation of generic information about emotion, for example, features
that tend to be repeatedly experienced during a given emotion or abstract
information about more extended periods of time. Philippot, Neumann,
and Vrielynck start with a review of research showing that several emo-
tional disorders are characterized by an overgenerality bias in emotional
information processing. Subsequently, they question the validity of naïve
theories sustaining this bias by referring to a cognitive model of emotion
regulation that is based on multilevel theories of emotion. They then ex-
amine the regulatory consequences of processing emotional information
at a speciﬁc or overgeneral level and ﬁnally outline implications for psy-
chopathology and clinical intervention.
8 Regulating Emotions
Martin Peper and Roland Vauth in their chapter then review the difﬁcul-
ties in deﬁning and assessing socio-emotional competencies that comprise
diverse functional domains related to emotion regulation, for example,
awareness of one’s own emotions, perception of emotions in others, and
coping and management skills. Peper and Vauth ﬁrst inspect the basic con-
structs and functional components of emotions and discuss the structure
and typical deﬁnitions of socio-emotional abilities. They give a concise
overview of the assessment of emotion regulation by means of psycho-
metric tests and critically review the methodological difﬁculties involved.
Taking schizophrenia as an exemplary clinical application, Peper and
Vauth describe typical deﬁcits of emotional processing in these patients
and present a rehabilitation program that is based on an original neuro-
psychological working model of emotion regulation and focuses on the
training of high-level socio-emotional skills.
Leslie Greenberg and Marie Vandekerckhove even more shift attention
from emotional self-regulation to the regulation of emotions by another
person by investigating in detail how emotion regulation and its disorders
can be approached from a psychotherapeutic perspective. In combining
affective neuroscience and one-factor models of emotion regulation they
explore the role of the client–therapist relationship in the treatment of
emotion related disorders. Based on the emotion-focused therapy approach
originally developed by Greenberg (2002), they assign a dual role to emo-
tion regulation in therapeutic relationships: First, the relationship is thera-
peutic in and of itself by serving an emotion regulation function which is
internalized over time. Second, the relationship functions as a means to an
end. The client–therapist relationship, they argue, should offer an opti-
mal environment for facilitating speciﬁc modes of emotional processing
because emotions are much more likely to be approached, tolerated, and
accepted in the context of a safe relationship. Greenberg and Vandeker-
ckhove articulate a number of principles of emotion assessment and
emotional change in therapy by referring to different aspects of emotion
generation and regulation. They conclude by presenting evidence and
techniques on how maladaptive emotions can be transformed into more
adaptive emotions in a therapeutic setting.
The articles in part four of the present volume highlight the socio-
cultural context as the primary object of inquiry, both as an immediate and
“one-factor” cause for emotion regulation, and as an object that is equally
affected by regulated emotions. Unni Wikan in her illuminating essay de-
scribes cases of honor killings in northern Europe in order to illustrate the
consequences of emotions that are regulated in ways that differ from those
prevailing in most Western cultures. By giving a detailed description of a
prominent case of honor killing in Denmark, Wikan gives an insight in
Regulating Emotions 9
how the mechanisms underlying these acts are tied to the regulation of
emotion. She draws on her long-term empirical research on honor and
shame in the Middle East and thereby sheds light on what honor “is”
and how it needs to be understood to combat rising violence, in particu-
lar against women. Wikan in her chapter explores the intrapersonal and
interpersonal mechanisms involved and illustrates how honor is at once a
matter of pride and oppression.
Poul Poder makes explicit how a speciﬁc social environment—in this
case a particular organization—shapes the interpretation of feelings and
thus their regulation. Taking anger as an example, Poder illustrates how
certain types of emotional experiences are silenced rather than welcomed
in a speciﬁc environment. He presents evidence from a case study on pro-
cesses of organizational restructuring and shows how employees and exec-
utives handle anger in quite different ways. Poder in particular illustrates
how anger is not acknowledged in the relationship between management
and employees. The article explains how anger can be viewed as integral
to morality and that this approach can be considered an alternative to
the predominant research on the regulation of anger. Poder outlines how
emotion regulation can be understood as a phenomenon facilitated by
speciﬁc “politics of expression.” According to this view, the regulation
of anger is linked to issues of culture and social structure, and is thus not
simply a question of particularly ill-tempered personalities.
In a similar vein, Charlotte Bloch discusses the issue of how moods are
regulated by emotional cultures. In her contribution she presents evidence
on how “ﬂow” and “stress” experiences as speciﬁc mood states are inter-
preted and handled in different contexts of everyday life in modern West-
ern societies. Bloch explicates the way in which emotional cultures play
an active, but often overlooked role in people’s everyday interpretations
and evaluations of pleasant and unpleasant moods; with the term “emo-
tional cultures”, she refers to different spheres of everyday life that are
found in many modern Western societies. In her study, she investigates
different strategies of handling ﬂow and stress in work-life, family-life,
and leisure-time. Bloch concludes that emotional cultures act as interpre-
tive ﬁlters which not only shape and mediate, but also actively disturb or
suppress speciﬁc moods.
We are conﬁdent that we have been able to assemble a volume that on
the one hand reﬂects the lively debates and the extraordinary atmosphere
at the workshop out of which many contributions originated and informs
the different disciplines about neighboring paradigms, approaches, and
ﬁndings in research on emotion regulation. On the other hand, we be-
lieve that we have managed to solicit additional contributions that ﬁt this
interdisciplinary exchange and further contribute to an understanding of
10 Regulating Emotions
emotion regulation across disciplinary boundaries. In sum, we hope that
this volume is an important contribution to the ﬁeld of emotion regula-
tion research and will stimulate further theorizing and empirical research
across many disciplines.
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