Capturing naturally occurring emotional suppression as it unfolds in couple interactions

By Jordan D. Dworkin, Virginia Zimmerman, Robert J. Waldinger & Marc S. Schulz in Mental health

October 26, 2018


Most research examining the consequences of suppressing emotional expression has focused on either experimentally manipulated and conscious suppression, or self-reported suppression behavior. This study examined suppression as it naturally occurred in couple (n = 105) discussions regarding a challenging topic. A Suppression Index (SI) was created by calculating the difference between continuous self-reports of emotional experience, obtained using cued video recall, and coders’ continuous ratings of expressed emotion. Suppression was common for both men and women, though there was also substantial individual variation. Autocorrelations of the SI were used to tap suppressive rigidity (Srig), or the tendency to inflexibly use suppression throughout the discussions. Srig scores were consistent within individuals across repeated conversations and varied across individuals, suggesting that Srig captures stable individual differences. Women’s greater suppression of negative emotions combined with more rigid use of suppression was associated with their own lower relationship satisfaction but not their partners’. These findings indicate that suppressive behavior may be linked to relationship quality, and that it is not just the use of suppression that may matter but how rigidly one applies this regulatory approach.

Posted on:
October 26, 2018
1 minute read, 183 words
Mental health
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