Location: Room 357 Levin Building
Department of Psychology
University of Pennsylvania
Regulating emotion regulation: When people make others feel worse in order to make them feel better
A great deal of work has investigated the conditions under which people seek out help from others in order to regulate their negative emotions. By contrast, relatively little work has investigated what influences someone’s decision to offer sympathy in return. We report that one important factor that influence’s people’s reaction to others’ emotional suffering is their judgments that the sufferer has voluntary control over the emotion. We find that people offer sympathy only when the sufferer is perceived to have little-to-no ability to regulate away their emotions themselves. We further show that, when people judge others to have a high degree of control over the emotion, they intentionally make the sufferer feel even worse – i.e., show “tough love,” – in order to motivate the sufferer to regulate away their negative emotions. We document this behavior in the context of perceiving others’ irrational emotion reactions: when someone has an irrational emotional reaction to something, people general judge that she has more ability to regulate the emotion away as compared to rational emotional reactions. These findings raise new questions about whether, and when, people’s decision to show others tough love is rational.