Individuals who are able to accurately predict the affective states of others may be better able to regulate their emotional reactions than those with less accurate perception abilities. This theory is the result of a recent study conducted by Michael D. Robinson of the Department of Psychology at North Dakota State University. Emotional regulation has been shown to be impaired in individuals with depression and other mood conditions. Additionally, when a person inaccurately perceives the affect of others, they can react negatively and increase their sense of distress, fear, and worry. Internalizing feelings such as threat can have deleterious consequences for psychological and physical health. Therefore, understanding the significance of the relationship between affect perception and mood could illuminate areas of investigation for treatment and research on mood issues.
Robinson conducted two separate studies on 151 participants in which he instructed them to log their daily events. He asked the participants to describe their moods based on their reactions to daily stresses they had and any negative outcomes that occurred. He found that the individuals with low affect perception skills reacted more emotionally and exhibited less emotional regulation than those with high affect perception accuracy. In fact, the participants who could accurately identify affect had no reaction to the same stressors that elicited elevated emotional reactions in low affect accuracy individuals.
The stressors reported in these studies were reliable predictors of mood and risk for physical illness resulting from poor emotional regulation. The fact that some of the individuals responded adaptively and others maladaptively suggests that the high accuracy perception participants may use strategies that help them maintain emotional control. Robinson theorized that perhaps they shift their focus from the negative meaning behind the stressors or use reappraisal techniques that allow them to view the stressors in a different way. Regardless of how it was accomplished, the emotional regulation exhibited by some participants opens further avenues of research for future exploration. Robinson added, “In short, considerable advances have been made in understanding regulatory processes and there are thus considerable opportunities to extend the present regulatory view of affect perception accuracy.”
Robinson, M. D., Moeller, S. K., Buchholz, M. M., Boyd, R. L., & Troop-Gordon, W. (2012). The regulatory benefits of high levels of affect perception accuracy: A process analysis of reactions to stressors in daily life. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029044
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