Emotion regulation choice in an evaluative context: the moderating role of self-esteem

Cognition and Emotion 31 (8):1725-1732 (2017)
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Abstract

Evaluative contexts can be stressful, but relatively little is known about how different individuals who vary in responses to self-evaluation make emotion regulatory choices to cope in these situations. To address this gap, participants who vary in self-esteem gave an impromptu speech, rated how they perceived they had performed on multiple evaluative dimensions, and subsequently chose between disengaging attention from emotional processing and engaging with emotional processing via changing its meaning, while waiting to receive feedback regarding these evaluative dimensions. According to our framework, distraction can offer stronger short-term relief than reappraisal, but, distraction is costly in the long run relative to reappraisal because it does not allow learning from evaluative feedback. We predicted and found that participants with lower self-esteem react defensively to threat of failure by seeking short-term relief via distraction over the long-term benefit of reappraisal, as perceived failure increases. Implications for the understanding of emotion regulation and self-esteem are discussed.

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