Implicit Theories and Emotion Regulation: Beliefs about Emotions and their role in Psychological Health and Well-being

Date

2017

Authors

De Castella, Krista

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Abstract

Implicit theories about emotion refer to people’s beliefs about whether their emotions are fixed (entity theory) or malleable (incremental theory). Growing research indicates that these beliefs influence emotion regulation efforts, psychological health and well-being, and may even play a key role in clinical disorders and their treatment. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to this growing body of literature. Across 10 studies and seven empirical chapters, I examine the associations between implicit theories of emotion, emotion regulation, and psychological health. Using the Process Model of Emotion Regulation as a framework, this thesis is divided into sections corresponding to different emotion regulation stages: Situation Selection; Attentional Regulation; Response Modulation and Cognitive Change. The first three studies are focused on measurement: The personal implicit theory scales are developed and evaluated, and qualitative measures are used to test whether implicit theories map onto different emotion regulation strategies. Studies 4 and 5 examine implicit theories of emotion and the first stages of the Process Model: Situation Selection and Situation Modification. In a Study 4 entity (versus incremental) beliefs were associated with poorer psychological health outcomes, and avoidance strategies mediated the links between implicit theories and psychological health. In Study 5, participants’ emotion beliefs were experimentally manipulated leading them to believe that they struggled (entity condition) or did not struggle (incremental condition) with controlling their emotions. Participants in the entity condition reported increased intentions to engage in avoidance strategies, were more likely to avoid emotion regulation stimuli, and reported greater avoidance of psychological help. Studies 6 and 7 examined implicit theories of emotion and the third stage of the Process Model: Attentional Deployment. In a correlational study (Study 6), entity beliefs about emotions were positively associated with maladaptive attention regulation (e.g., catastrophizing) and negatively associated with adaptive attention regulation (e.g., mindfulness). Entity beliefs also predicted greater likelihood of using response modulation strategies like alcohol and medication as a means of regulating emotions. Attention regulation also indirectly explained links between emotion beliefs and response modulation. In a longitudinal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention study (Study 7), MBSR led to a significant reduction in entity beliefs (compared to controls). Changes emotion beliefs mediated MBSR-related reductions in stress, anxiety, depression and response modulation at 12-month follow-up. Studies 8, 9 and 10 examine implicit theories of emotion and the third stage of the Process Model: Cognitive Change. In a correlational study (Study 8), entity beliefs about emotions predict reduced likelihood of using cognitive reappraisal in daily life, which in turn predict poorer self-esteem and life satisfaction. In a clinical study (Study 9), patients with social anxiety disorder (compared to healthy controls) were more likely to view emotions as things that cannot be controlled (entity theory). These beliefs predicted anxiety symptom severity. Finally, in a waitlist-controlled, 12-week Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) intervention study (Study 10), changes in implicit theories of emotion explained CBT-related reductions in social anxiety symptoms and uniquely predicted treatment outcomes even when controlling for baseline anxiety and other kinds of maladaptive beliefs. Emotion beliefs also continued to predict social anxiety 12-months post-treatment. The final chapters of this thesis employ a clinical case study to demonstrate why emotion beliefs can be harmful, and why psychoeducation may not always be an effective intervention. The implications of these findings in relation to emotion regulation and clinical treatment are discussed.

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Keywords

Emotion Regulation, implicit theories, emotions, psychological health, well-being, clinical psychology, entity, incremental, process model, beliefs, stress, anxiety, depression, mindfulness, CBT

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Type

Thesis (PhD)

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DOI

10.25911/5d6c40e3b7217

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