Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The benefits of 'losing it'

Benedict Carey does an interesting article on the personal and social utility of letting out, expressing, strong spontaneous emotional reactions.   President Obama's failure to do this has led people to question his sincerity or commitment to fixing financial institutions or oil spills. This is line with Pinker's argument that emotions evolved as guarantors or our authenticity.  Such authenticity is the issue in Obama's failure to emote. A few clips:
...people develop a variety of psychological tools to manage what they express in social situations, and those techniques often become subconscious, affecting interactions in unintended ways. The better that people understand their own patterns, the more likely they are to see why some emotionally charged interactions go awry — whether from too little control or, in the president’s case, perhaps too much.

Psychologists divide regulation strategies into two broad categories: pre-emptive, occurring before an emotion is fully felt; and responsive, coming afterward... Suppression, while clearly valuable in some situations (no laughing at funerals, please), has social costs that are all too familiar to those who know its cold touch.

Pre-emptive techniques can work in more subtle ways. One of these is simple diversion, reflexively focusing on the good and ignoring the bad — rereading the praise in an evaluation and ignoring or dismissing any criticism. A 2009 study...found that people over 55 were much more likely than those aged 25 and under to focus on positive images when in a bad mood — thereby buoying their spirits. The younger group was more likely to focus on negative images when feeling angry or down... older people were twice as likely as younger ones to be “rapid regulators” — people whose mood bounced back quickly, sometimes within minutes, after ruminating on depressing memories...older people tend to regulate their emotions faster, and are not as motivated to explore negative information, to engage negative images, as younger people are...And it makes some sense that younger adults would explore the negative side of things, that they need to and maybe want to experience them to experience life as they develop their own strategies to regulate...the ability to shrug off feelings of disgust or outrage may suit an older group but strike younger people as inauthentic, even callous.

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