Dr. James Gross
"Emotions are famously difficult to define", Dr. James Gross shares as we begin our discussion about emotions. During The Mind Society's second season debut episode, Dr. Gross, the world's preeminent researcher of emotions and emotion regulation, provides insight into the nuances of what emotions are. Getting down to terminology nitty gritty, "affect" can be described more as an umbrella term for states that involve deciphering between good and bad, according to Gross (2014). Then, within this umbrella we have (1) emotions (e.g., sadness and anger), (2) stress responses (i.e., moments when we feel the inability to cope), and (3) mood (i.e., depression or euphoria) (Gross, 2014). Why is this important? The reason is not as complicated as you might think. It's important to make these proper distinctions because, besides all of the terminology being thrown around between the media, lay groups, and scholars, it's essential to have a strong foundation to understand what is going on inside of you and others. Emotions are more fleeting, whereas mood lasts longer, and stress responses are more negative in nature, according to Gross (2014). Once we know why and what we're feeling, we can begin to address them satisfactorily.
"If emotions were always and only entirely helpful for us and other people, we wouldn't need emotion regulation", argues Gross. He also is co-editor of an excellent book, The Handbook of Emotion Regulation, where he takes an expansive view of emotions and emotion regulation. His definition of emotion regulation (ER) states that it "refers to shaping the emotions one has, when one has them, and how one experiences and expresses those emotions" (Gross, 1998). Furthermore, there are three core features of emotion regulation: (1) the emotion regulation goal (i.e., what you want to accomplish by regulating), (2) the emotion regulation strategy (e.g., cognitive appraisal or suppression), and (3) the outcome (i.e., the consequences of trying to achieve that goal using that strategy) (Gross, 2014). All of these are key features of the mechanisms behind ER and are ones that make up the framework that Gross and his team have compiled together in his lab.
"Emotions are famously difficult to define, but they involve several different parts that travel together."
Now that we have the basics ironed out, let's get into the different strategies of ER and when one of them might not always be so helpful. During my discussion with Dr. Gross, we also go into any cultural or personality differences that may play a part in how we choose these different ER strategies and how we can better learn to identify emotions within ourselves and others. Dr. Gross shares what he's been working on in his lab and some interesting insight into his future directions. If you're interested in understanding the intricacies of emotions and specifically emotion regulation, this will be an extremely thought-provoking talk. Listen below!
(Recorded July 2023.)
Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation: Conceptual and empirical foundations. Handbook of emotion regulation, 2, 3-20.
Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: an integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299.
Books by Dr. Gross