03: Emotions, Emotion Regulation and the Psychological Future Time

Emotions are intrapsychic processes but simultaneously socially grounded (Koole & Veenstra, 2015). People make others angry or happy, and emotions affect others, which is implied in “emotion contagion”, which means “emotions can spread like diseases around the social world” (Parkinson & Manstead, 2015, p. 374). Members of social groups both experience and express similar emotions (Niedenthal & Brauer, 2012), which becomes more likely when members identify strongly with the group (Smith, Seger, & Mackie, 2007). Emotion norms are adopted by individual group members and influence how feelings are experienced, tolerated and expressed, based on the adopted rules of being a “good” group member (Reysen & Branscombe, 2008).

Religion can have a direct effect on emotional experiences, (e.g., Emmons, 2005; Watts, 2007). Religious narratives are one type of appraisal source to use, and they are grander narratives that can include the promise of continuity after death and present security and reduce death anxiety among believers (Baumeister, Vohs, & Oettingen, 2016; Harding, Flannelly, Weaver, & Costa, 2005; Vail et al., 2010, in Vishkin et al., 2016).

Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation is “the processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions” (Gross, 1998b, p. 275). People constantly use emotion regulation strategies to decrease, increase or maintain feeling states (Gyurak, Gross, & Etkin, 2011; Koole, 2009).

In Gross’s process model of emotion regulation, being an inspiration for many studies in this field (Parkinson & Manstead, 2015), five families of emotion regulation strategies are distinguished by the point in the emotion generative process, where they have their primary impacts. These are situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change and response modulation (Gross, 1998b, 2008, 2015). Specific emotions, such as happiness, anxiety, shame and anger, may become the target of regulation. Emotions can be regulated at different times, such as before an emotion is generated, termed antecedent-emotion regulation, as well as after, termed response-focused emotion regulation (Gross, 1998a).

Emotion regulation is connected to goal accomplishment (Thompson, 1994). Strategies for emotion regulation have been attached to the production of appropriate responses toward the environment, securing belongingness and wellbeing and avoiding emotional dysregulation or even psychopathology (Aldao, 2013; Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Schweizer, 2010; Fonagy, 2002; Gross, 1998b; Singh & Mishra, 2011). Emotion regulation has a fundamental existential and interpersonal motive, namely the need to belong, as we have a drive toward forming and maintaining at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive and significant interpersonal relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

The Psychological Future Time

Constructions about the future influence how lives are lived here and now (Baumeister & Vohs, 2016; Yalom, 1980; Zaleski, 1994). People may often have more thoughts about the future than the past, and thought activity about the past has often been found to be connected to implications and assistance for the future (Baumeister, Hofmann, & Vohs, unpublished, in Baumeister et al., 2016). Images, thoughts and feelings about the future influence action planning, decision making and emotion regulation (D’Argembeau, Renaud, & Van Der Linden, 2011). People “pre-experience” the future by simulating it in their minds and predicting the hedonic consequences, as they can “preview” events and “pre-feel” pleasures and pains (Gilbert & Wilson, 2007, p. 1352). Prospection means to be guided by mental representations of possible future states; people draw on earlier experiences to evaluate diverse prospects, and “action is then selected in light of their needs and goals” (Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, & Sripada, 2013, p. 119). The goal is to control what will occur (Baumeister et al., 2016). Different cultures will lead to variations; as in immediate-return cultures, people behave according to short-term goals and receive near-instant feedback, while in delayed-return cultures, behavior is more connected to long-term goals and deferred feedback. Religious belief systems often emphasize delayed consequences of current behavior on outcomes expected to be experienced after death (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997). The transcendental future time perspective includes goals such as eternal life, reunion with loved ones, or absence of rooted
problems and sufferings (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997). The implicit extraordinary time perspective in religion can contribute to understanding behavior, such as suicide bombings, cult members following their leaders to death, or members being willing to abstain from sex, money, and work, or even family and friends (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997).

In psychology, a specific focus on the time aspect of the future has recently been addressed in theories on emotional impact bias and affective forecasting biases. This focus on how humans estimate future emotions through the making of affective forecasts can, as we see it, enhance the understanding of emotion regulation. Affective forecasts can be said to consist of four components (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003), which are predictions about the valence of one’s future feelings (positive-negative), the specific emotions that will be experienced and the intensity of the emotions and their duration. People engage in positive mental time travel, which includes anticipating positive emotions (Quoidbach, Berry, Hansenne, & Mikolajczak, 2010). In the field of emotions, impact bias implicates how humans often overestimate the level of future feelings, such as anger and sadness (Van Dijk, Van Dillen, Seip, & Rotteveel, 2012). People systematically overestimate both the intensity and duration of future feelings, termed affective forecasting biases (Miloyan & Suddendorf, 2015).

The emotional biases, being mental forecasts of emotions, may have diverse implications and functions, such as to help induce shared intentionality and cooperation (Suddendorf, 2011) or to lead people to work harder to reach a goal (Miloyan & Suddendorf, 2015). The end goal of regulation can be defined as sustaining one’s worldview (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997).

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