Interpersonal dynamics of emotion and emotion regulation

July 11th A1.03
Lisanne Pauw (University of Amsterdam) & Michael Boiger (KU Leuven)

Emotions are inherently social. During ongoing interactions, people continuously impact each other’s emotions and they capitalize on this interpersonal emotion system to regulate each other towards psychological and relational equilibrium. This symposium presents recent advances in research on the interpersonal dynamics of emotion and emotion regulation. Five presenters discuss how people shape and regulate each other’s emotional experiences and behaviors, and which consequences these interpersonal dynamics bear at the level of the individual, the relationship, and the cultural context. First, Catrin Finkenauer will discuss the importance of feeling understood for close relationships and the relational effort that goes into achieving this mutual understanding. Second, Dominik Schoebi will demonstrate the role of dynamic emotional attunement during interactions for relationship satisfaction. Third, Lisanne Pauw will talk about whether and how people may come to understand what the other person needs in the context of a supportive interaction, looking into the role of empathic accuracy in support provision. Fourth, in a study with Belgian and Japanese romantic partners, Michael Boiger will show how couples’ emotional interactions gravitate towards those emotional states that are instrumental for achieving culturally valued relationship goals. Finally, Anna Schouten will demonstrate how partners regulate each other’s emotions towards these culturally valued emotional states by employing culturally specific interpersonal emotion regulation strategies.

Interpersonal emotion regulation in Japanese and Belgian couples

Anna Schouten, Michael Boiger, Alex Kirchner, Yukiko Uchida & Batja Mesquita

During ongoing interactions, the emotions of one partner unfold and evolve dynamically with the emotions of the other partner. In our research, we find that these dyadic emotional trajectories differ across cultures: Whereas the interactions of Belgian couples gravitate towards mutual annoyance, interactions of Japanese couples gravitate toward mutual empathy. Yet, little is known about the underlying processes that account for cultural differences in these prevalent dyadic emotional states. In this study, we propose that interpersonal emotion regulation (IER) and, more precisely, the culturally specific use of IER strategies promotes cultural differences in dyadic emotional states. First, we predict that Japanese couples more commonly use other-accepting IER strategies whereas Belgian couples use other-rejecting IER strategies. Second, we predict that the use of these IER strategies is associated with the partners’ experience of culturally prevalent emotional states (annoyance in Belgium and empathy in Japan). To test these predictions, we coded previously collected disagreement interactions of N=58 Belgian and N=80 Japanese couples for IER behaviors using the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF). First findings indicate that IER behaviors differ across cultures and account for the prevalent dyadic emotional states in line with our predictions. These results thus shed a first light on the interpersonal process whereby partners regulate each other’s emotions towards culturally valued emotional states.

Emotion dynamics: Implications for interpersonal adjustment and emotion regulation

Dominik Schoebi & Tamara Luginbuehl

Emotional interdependence is a defining feature of intimate relationships, and peoples’ emotion dynamics are tightly interconnected with those of the intimate partner (Randall & Schoebi, 2018). Arguably, the coordinated emotion dynamics reflect partners’ regulation and dysregulation of emotions through intimate interactions. The current paper examines this idea, linking individuals’ emotion dynamics to interpersonal attunement during daily conflict and intimacy, the partner’s perceptions of their responsiveness in daily interactions, and long-term relational adjustment. Furthermore, we examined links between individuals’ daily emotion dynamics and reciprocity of facial expressions of emotions during support interactions, and daily reports of interpersonal emotion regulation.

The Dynamics of Dyadic Emotion Regulation: Determinants and Consequences of Support Provision

Lisanne Pauw, Disa Sauter, Gerben Van Kleef & Agneta Fischer

People often regulate their emotions interpersonally by telling others about their emotional experiences (social sharing). Extant research has investigated the prevalence and effectiveness of social sharing, but few studies have looked into the process of sharing itself. What needs do sharers have and do listeners pick up on these needs? In the current study, our aim was to examine the determinants and consequences of need-fulfilling support provision. To this end, 200 participants were randomly assigned the role of sharer or listener. For eight minutes, the sharer discussed an upsetting situation, while the listener responded naturally. Afterwards, both individually watched the video-recorded interaction in fragments of 20 seconds, rating either their experienced emotional intensity and socio-affective and cognitive support needs (sharer), or their perception of the sharer’s emotional intensity, as well as their own support provision (listener) for each fragment. Both sharers’ support needs, as well as listeners’ accurate emotion perception predicted adequate support provision. The more accurate listeners perceived sharers’ distress level, the more they fulfilled sharers’ socio-affective (but not cognitive) support needs. Surprisingly, while general levels of perceived support predicted greater perceived benefits and closeness, need-fulfilling support provision did not.

Emotions during disagreements in Belgian and Japanese couples: A dynamic systems perspective

Michael Boiger, Alexander Kirchner, Anna Schouten, Yukiko Uchida & Batja Mesquita

Emotions help people navigate their social and cultural environments. In the present study, we aim to show that emotions that are instrumental in the respective cultural context play a central role during couple disagreements. During ongoing interactions, partners’ emotions are often pulled towards certain recurring or stable dyadic states, also called attractors (e.g., partners become locked in anger during a conflict). We predicted that these attractors differ between cultures systematically: Self-focused emotions such as anger or feelings of strength should be more common attractors in Belgium where they support autonomy goals; other-focused emotions such as shame or empathy for the partner should play a more central role in Japan, where they are instrumental for achieving culturally valued relatedness goals. Romantic couples (N=127) from Belgium and Japan completed questionnaires on relational functioning and participated in conflict interactions, which were video-recorded. After the interaction, participants separately rated their emotional experience during video-mediated recall: Every 30s, the recording stopped, and participants indicated to what extent they had experienced each of 12 emotions. We identified emotional attractor states using state-space grids and a winnowing technique. In line with our predictions, the culturally most common attractor states reflected emotional states of the couple system that support relationship goals of autonomy in Belgium (e.g., mutual annoyance) and relatedness in Japan (e.g., mutual empathy). Moreover—at least in Belgium—couples who experienced these attractors reported higher relationship satisfaction and endorsed more culturally valued relationship goals (i.e., autonomy in Belgium).

The importance of feeling understood in relationships

Catrin Finkenauer

People desire and need to understand their relationship partners and, importantly, they need to feel understood by others in daily life. Yet their perceptions of being understood are only modestly related to actually being understood by others. In this presentation, Catrin Finkenauer provides an overview of research on relational processes that contribute to feeling understood and misunderstood in relationships. Taking a dyadic perspective, she will review empirical findings on the effects of feeling understood for people in relationships, both for their personal and relational wellbeing. The work she presents underscores the importance of feeling understood for both partners in the relationship. It also highlights the pitfalls of mistakenly assuming that one partner understands the other and shows that in ongoing relationships, partners need to continue updating each other on their thoughts, feelings, and dreams—even when they feel they understand each other.