That was the question at the center of a recent study led by David Berle of the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Building on the theory at the heart of most cognitive behavioral therapies, Berle took the “feelings vs. facts” idea to a new level.
A core tenet of many cognitive therapies is to help clients realize that their beliefs may be distorted because they are based on feelings and not facts. In other words, clients shouldn’t form all their beliefs on emotions, but rather should analyze situations and consider relevant facts before forming a cognitive belief. Berle chose to turn that around and explore whether people with high levels of emotional reasoning experience more psychological problems as a result.
For his study, Berle enlisted 42 participants with high dysphoric moods and 28 with low dysphoric moods to determine how emotional reasoning affected depressive symptoms. He also considered anxiety and how phobia and panic was related to emotional reasoning.
Berle conducted two separate experiments and found that the majority of the participants relied on emotional reasoning to complete the tasks at hand, even those with no history of dysphoria, depression, or anxiety. However, when Berle looked at self-relevant emotional reasoning, he found that increases in this type of reasoning were directly related to higher depressive symptoms.
Interestingly, contrary to other data related to anxiety and emotional reasoning, Berle did not find that people with panic or phobia engaged in more emotional reasoning than participants without anxiety. This finding adds support to the theory that emotional reasoning may not be a byproduct of anxiety, but instead, may provide a greater awareness for individuals and thus result in a greater emphasis on the emotions they experience. “In summary, our two studies suggest that there may be small-sized associations between emotional reasoning and depressive symptoms,” said Berle. “This association appears to be independent of anxiety symptoms.”
Berle, D., Moulds, M.L. (2013). Emotional reasoning processes and dysphoric mood: Cross-sectional and prospective relationships. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67359. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067359
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