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Social Controls\Influences

​​​​Social Controls\Influences

Our culture teaches us when to express emotions and how strongly to express them.  Sometimes, society teaches us that we either should not experience a certain emotion in a particular context (e.g., we are taught as children not to be angry when a friend plays with our toys) or that we should at least mask our feelings in that context.  At other times, society teaches us to enhance our experience of a certain emotion in a particular context (e.g., when our country wins a gold medal in the Olympics!) or at least our expression of that emotion.

We sometimes learn to regulate our emotions by observing what others do and the resultant outcomes for them.  This observational learning may occur consciously but often observational learning occurs automatically via cognitive priming (i.e., having unconsciously seen\hear something we are more likely to later think of it ourselves).  We also learn how and when to regulate our emotions through our own process of trial and error.  In addition, we may learn strategies to dampen emotions (e.g., distraction, reappraisal, or relaxation) or enhance emotions (e.g., adding positive experiences together, decreasing cognitive inhibition, or increasing sympathetic arousal).  These diverse types of learning occur within the context of family interactions; direct social interactions with friends, peers, co-workers and others; traditional and social media; and religious or other institutional (e.g., educational or military) teachings.  Thus, socialization helps to mold our emotional expression.

In this third major section of this book I will explore the role of culture and socialization on emotions.  This section will briefly introduce social constructivism theory, some empirical findings of cultural differences (including a discussion of gender differences), and then some of the specific settings in which emotions are socialized (e.g., religion, family, broader social interactions, and the media).

Social Constructivist Theory

Social constructivist theories emphasize the role of culture and the socialization process in determining emotions.  The emphasis is on the function of emotion within social interactions (Barrett, 2013).  These theories see emotions as briefly operating social roles within those interactions.  Particular emotions are seen as social\cultural constructions rather than as distinct biological entities.

Social constructivist theories suggest that through socialization we learn social\cultural rules about how to behave in particular situations.  For example, you would react to the death of your pet differently if you spent your youth watching Disney movies about pets then than if you grew up on a farm where animals were routinely slaughtered.  The idea is that what you feel in a particular situation is what you learned during socialization as the appropriate experience in that situation. 

These theories highlight that we often learn these rules through the process of language transmission.  We listen to the descriptions by others of emotions and emotion provoking situations, and we get corrective feedback from others as we relate our own emotional experiences.  Language is seen to play a key role in the acquisition and organization of our conceptual knowledge of an emotion (Lindquist, Satpute, & Gendron, 2015).  As we learn the rules about emotions, we construct cognitive prototypes about each emotion (a prototype is a best example of something).  These prototypes determine how we appraise situations, which in turn determines our emotional experiences.

However, constructivist theories (e.g., Tracy, 2014a) have a different view of appraisals than does the cognitively oriented approach that was discussed in the previous section of this book.  Constructivist theories see appraisals as any mental process that generates the meaning for a situation and see appraisals and emotions as essentially equivalent.  They believe that meanings are constructed out of past experience and must be shared between individuals for an emotion to be experienced (Tracy, 2014a).

Social constructivist theories downplay the role that the biological component has in determining emotions.  They reject the notion that emotions are primarily physiological phenomena. Different emotions are not seen as distinct categories (they do not believe in basic emotions) but are seen as being variable, with their manifestation depending on the situation (Barrett, 2013).  The existence of variation of responses within an emotional ‘category’ is seen as a critique of any basic emotions typology (Barrett, 2013).  Instead, social constructivist theories believe that emotions emerge out of two biological dimensions: (a) degree of pleasure, and (b) degree of arousal.  [Note that although emotions can be described by these two dimensions, in many situations the approach of basic emotions explains more of the variance within studies.]

While not denying a role for biology, Mesquita and Boiger’s (2014) sociodynamic theory (a variant of social constructivism) assumes that emotions are psychological constructions from the interactions between individuals.  They concede that one component of emotional categories are physiological feelings (Cameron, Lindguist, & Gray, 2015), but no one-to-one correspondence is assumed between specific physiological responses and distinct emotions.  While emotions are constructed from physiological feelings and other lower order biological systems, emotions are assumed to be primarily the result of social interactions (Mesquita & Boiger, 2014).

A striking assumption of social constructivist theories is that they do not believe that cultures merely determine how and when we show our emotions (this would be Ekman's notion of display rules).  Rather, some social constructivist theories posit that culture determines our repertoire of emotions.  This leads to several interesting predictions.  Firstly, it predicts that people from different cultures can\will experience different emotions when in the same situation.  Secondly, it predicts that a given culture could construct an emotion that is unique to that culture.  For example, Cornelius (1996) argued that the Japanese emotion of amae has no corresponding emotion in North America.  Amae is an attachment or dependence on another that is the opposite of the Canadian and American ideal of personal freedom and independence.  It is an emotion that is thought to result from the consistently close contact between Japanese mothers and their infants (including sleeping together).  Amae is also thought to relate to the later emphasis by many Japanese adults on group dependence.  However, North Americans who have an anxious\resistant emotional attachment with their mothers seem to have a similar experience.  It is of interest to note that although Japanese children spend much of their time with their mother, these mothers sometimes use the possibility of separation from them as a threatened punishment.  Further note that Japanese children tend to be more anxious\resistant than are children from other countries (see Posada et al. 2013).  Thus, perhaps amae is essentially the same as the anxiety felt by those in North America with an anxious\resistant attachment.Social constructivist theories also [reasonably] predict that language can influence emotional experience.  The extreme form of this prediction is that language determines emotional experience.  However, there is evidence that is inconsistent with this extreme position.  For example, even though English speaking North Americans have no equivalent word for the German “schadenfreude” (pleasure at others’ problems), North American’s frequently admit to having experienced this emotion themselves.

The strength of social constructive theories of emotion is their emphasis on culture and socialization.  Their weakness is in their downplaying of the biological component and denial of the existence of basic emotions.  However, some social constructivists (e.g., Tracy, 2014b) also embrace, in addition to social\cultural influences, both biological and cognitive perspectives, and this seems like a very constructive (as in helpful!) approach.



Our understanding of our own and others’ emotions is significantly advanced by an understanding of the impact of culture.  This is true of our ability to read facial expressions, and our understanding of how both internal (e.g., appraisal, regulation, and values) and external (e.g., life experiences) events affect emotions. 

Although our ability to read the facial expressions of people of different cultures is largely universal for basic emotions (Ekman, 1994), there are some cultural differences (Russell, 1994).  For example, Japanese and Africans show a lower accuracy for categorizing facial expressions of fear, disgust, and anger than do Westerners.  These cultural differences may partially relate to differences in the avoidance of uncertainty (Altarriba et al., 2003), but differences in aversion to uncertainty does not explain all of the emotion recognition differences.  For instance, East Asians are better at accurately recognizing the emotions felt by their friends than are Americans, but East Asians are worse than Americans at recognizing the emotions felt by strangers (Ma-Kellams & Blascovich, 2012).  This probably relates to Eastern cultures feeling interdependent with close others but less concerned about strangers than are Americans (Ma-Kellams & Blascovich, 2012).  Generally, the more interaction we have with a particular social, cultural or ethnic group, the better we are at reading the facial expressions within that group (Young & Hugenberg, 2010).  If Japanese and Africans infrequently see expressions of fear, disgust, and anger (compared to Westerners) this might account for the the lower accuracy in recognizing these facial expressions.

Culture appears to exert a small effect on some aspects of emotions while exerting a larger effect on other aspects of emotions.  The appraisal that triggers a given basic emotion and the subjective experience produced by each basic emotion is essentially the same across cultures (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).  However, there are cultural differences in whether a particular event triggers a particular emotion (Shao, Doucet, & Caruso, 2015), in the strength of an emotional experience, and in our high-order thinking about these emotions (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).  These cultural differences result from different life experiences, different appraisals, and different values.  For example, female university students in Mainland China are much more likely to view erotic picture negatively than are female university students in the Unites States (Huang et al., 2015).  This is not surprising as currently in China sex education is limited, nudity is considered offensive, and chastity is more highly valued than is the case in the United States (Huang et al., 2015). 

The effect of cultural values on emotional experience can be seen in the importance of anger and shame in different countries.  In Turkey, experiencing anger and shame are both promoted, consistent with the Turkish cultural principle of defending family honour (Boiger, Güngör, Karasawa, & Mesquita, 2014).  In Japan, shame but not anger is promoted, consistent with the Japanese cultural principles of social harmony and keeping face (Boiger et al., 2014).  In the United States, anger but not shame is promoted, consistent with the American cultural principles of individuality and entitlement (Boiger et al., 2014).  These different values lead to differences in the frequency and the strength to which anger and shame are experienced in these respective countries.

Collectivist cultures (such as many Asian cultures and many indigenous cultures) often emphasize the family and larger culture.  In contrast, individualistic cultures (such as most Western cultures) often emphasize the primacy of individuals and independence.  Collectivistic cultures are more likely to promote the control (i.e., inhibition) of emotional expression while individualistic cultures are more likely to promote emotional expression (Allen, Diefendorff, & Ma, 2014).  Emotions that occur more frequently in collectivist cultures include friendliness, respect, and sympathy, as these emotions aid social engagement (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).  Emotions that occur more frequently in individualistic cultures include pride, sulkiness, and frustration, as these emotions reflect personal independence (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012) and entitlement.  Individuals in Chinese and Japanese cultures are generally less emotionally expressive in public than are North Americans.  Display rules may dictate the suppression of happiness in some situations in Asian cultures while in Western cultures would dictate the expression of happiness.  Japanese are more likely than Americans to associate feeling happy with others then becoming jealous.  There is concern in Japan that someone being too happy could disrupt social harmony.  In Japan, helping to maintain the positive social image of someone else is associated with one’s own feelings of joy (Lin & Yamaguchi, 2011).  Much of Asian culture strives for calm while Western culture strives for happiness.

People in East Asian cultures are more likely to feel mixed emotions than are Westerners.  Japanese sometimes experience negative events more intensely than do Americans (Grossman, Karasawa, Kan, & Kitayama, 2014).  Americans appear to more often distance themselves from negative events while in East Asian the emphasis is more often on acknowledging negative events and attempting to deal with them through reappraisal (Grossman et al., 2014).  For example, after doing poorly on an examination in an American university, Asians and Asian-Americans did not feel any worse than did European-Americans (Miyamoto, Ma, & Petermann, 2014).  However, Asians and Asian-Americans students were moderately (η2 = .34) less concerned with decreasing their negative emotions (anxious, disappointed, angry, and ashamed) and enhancing their positive emotions than were European-Americans (Miyamoto et al., 2014).  The European-Americans were more likely to want to feel better (d = 0.61).  As Americans age, they experience fewer negative interpersonal interactions and are less emotionally disturbed by negative situations, but there is no similar change with age for Japanese (Grossman et al., 2014). 

Brazilians are even more emotionally expressive than are North Americans (just watch their soccer fans!).  Brazilians are most emotionally open with their friends, rather than with their family or partner (Vikan, da Graça, Dias, & Roazzi, 2009).  In contrast, Russians are often more brooding and melancholy than North Americans (Grossmann, Ellsworth, & Hong, 2012).  Russian culture focuses more on the negative than on the positive, while Americans are the opposite and focus more on the positive than on the negative (Grossmann et al., 2012).

However, a meta-analysis (van Hermert, Poortinga, & van de Vijver, 2007) of 188 studies found that cultural differences in emotional expressivity were actually relatively small (average d = .25).  What differences did exist between cultures were associated with differences in mode of work, political systems, and religion.  Emotional expressiveness positively correlated with (a) societies with more people in the service profession, (b) societies that were more democratic and had more human rights, and (c) societies that stressed individualism.  The expression of more positive emotions was associated with (a) more stable societies, and (b) societies with a higher percentage of Protestants.

Some strategies for emotional regulation are more emphasized by particular cultures.  Chinese men show less emotional reaction than North Americans when viewing a negative scene, and they accomplish this through emotionally distancing themselves (e.g., ”I don’t really care about…”) from the negative scene (Davis et al., 2012).  Japanese tend to be less expressive through the cognitive strategies of suppression and reappraisal (Matsumoto et al., 2008).  A meta-analysis (Hu et al., 2014) of 48 studies found that while in individualistic cultures there is a small correlation (r = .19) between suppression of emotional expression and mental health problems this relationship is weaker (r = .06) in collectivist cultures.  In other word, consistently feigning a “poker face” (i.e., being devoid of emotional expression) is more likely to cause mental health problems in Canada and America than in China and Japan.

In traditional Hindu communities in India, individuals are taught to control negative emotions through understanding and accepting a given situation (Raval, Raval, Salvina, Wilson, & Writer, 2013).  Hindu mothers reported slightly less (η2 =.09) sympathy towards expression by their children of anger and sadness, while American mothers were more likely to encourage their children to express the emotions of anger and sadness (Raval et al., 2013).

Higher-order thinking about our emotions is thought to be influenced by language, particularly by the vocabularies for particular emotions.  Collectivist and individualistic cultures also represent emotions in different linguistic ways and at different levels of abstraction (Altarriba, Basnight, & Canary, (2003), but that does not necessarily mean that the emotions are experienced in different ways.  In collective cultures people’s emotional memories are more influenced by who was present in the original event, than is the case for people in individualistic cultures (Koh, Scollon, & Wirtz, 2014). 

Many cultures have the same linguistic structure of emotions: (a) at the top are the two superordinate categories: positive and negative, (b) in the middle are five basic level categories: happiness, love, sadness, fear, and anger, and (c) at the bottom are a large number of subordinate categories (i.e., subcategories of the basic categories).  The number of subordinate categories depends on whether particular basic emotions are emphasized to a greater or lesser extent in a given culture (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).  The size of vocabularies within subordinate categories can also vary substantially across cultures. 

Culture can influence emotions, which in turn can influence an individual’s well-being.  Latinas (women from Mexican, Mexican-American, or other Latin cultural backgrounds) who are high in neuroticism tend to be less anxious and less stressed than other women also high in neuroticism but who have East Asian or East Asian-American or European-American backgrounds (Campos et al., 2014).  This positive effect for highly neurotic Latinas may result from more positive emotions, better social support, and more physical proximity in their social relations within that cultural group (Campos et al., 2014).

However, not all of us are equally impacted by the cultural norms for how we express emotions.  One reason for this variation has to do with the specific alleles, the version of our genes, that we possess.  For example, our individual differences in social sensitivity is related to "AA" versus "GG" alleles governing oxytocin receptors (Rodrigues, Saslow, Garcia, John, & Keltner, 2009).  American participants who possess the GG genotype (associated with more social sensitivity than the AA genotype) use less emotional suppression, whereas Korean participants who possess the GG genotype use more emotional suppression. In other words, people with the GG genotype are more closely adhering to the social rules regarding emotion regulation within their culture (Kim et al., 2011).  Thus, genes interact with our culture in determining our emotional expression.

When considering the effect of culture on emotions it is important to keep in mind that there are large individual differences within any culture (Nezlek, Kafetsios, & Smith, 2008).  This is what we mean when we say that the effect of culture is small.  Still, these small cultural effects are frequently quite important.  


One noteworthy cultural influence on emotional experience is religion, with religious teachings and practices often aimed at heightening some emotional experiences and supressing others.  For example, Christian religions (e.g., Catholicism, Protestantism) generally emphasize love, kindness, and hope; Evangelical Christianity emphasizes intense positive emotions (e.g., awe); Buddhism emphasizes calm; and Judaism and Christianity both advocate the regulation of envy, pride, and anger (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003);  

For the majority of people in the world, there are emotional benefits to being a member of one of the major religions.  Religion can help one to emotionally bond with a community of people (Saroglou, 2011).  Religious affiliation has been positively related to family quality and satisfaction (Sabatier, Mayer, Friedlmeier, Lubiewska, & Trommsdorff, 2011; Simonič, Mandelj, & Novsak, 2013).  Religion also provides comfort when someone dies (Lee, Roberts, & Gibbons, 2013), as religion helps individuals to develop a meaning to life and death, and sometimes provides coping strategies (e.g., religious reappraisals such as “God’s will”) which can, for some, aid in their emotional response to traumatic events (Altmaier, 2013).  However, we need to keep in mind that the effects of religion may depend on the wider culture (Sabatier et al., 2011).  For example, while studies in the West frequently associate religiosity with positive mental health (Kim-Prieto & Diener, 2009), studies in Mainland China frequently find that religious groups score lower than nonreligious groups on tests of mental health (Chen, Wang, Weng, & Wang, 2012). 

What empirical evidence is there that specific religions actually differ in emotional experience?  One study (Kim-Prieto & Diener, 2009) of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist college students (7,231 students across 49 countries) found very small (η2 = .02) religious differences in the frequency of emotions experienced within the one week period about which the students were surveyed.  The study found that Christians reported the highest frequencies of feeling love while Muslims reported the highest frequencies of experiencing sadness and shame.  Christians reported lower frequencies of shame than did Buddhists and Hindus.  Buddhists generally did not report high frequencies of any emotion.  There were no religious differences found in the frequency of experienced: happiness, gratitude, pride, anger, guilt, or jealousy (Kim-Prieto & Diener, 2009).  However, we need to be cautious about inferring the effects of particular religions because the religious communities themselves may differ on a host of social and cultural variables.  A separate study (Ritter, Preston, & Hernandez, 2014) of primarily Canadian and American Twitter users found that those who followed five public Christian figures were moderately more likely to tweet positive emotions (d = .36) and slightly less likely to tweet negative emotions (d = -.22) than were those who followed five public atheist figures.  These differences partially related to the more social connectedness of Christians, and partly because Christians thought more in terms of certainty and emotion while atheists thought more in terms of skepticism and reason (Ritter et al., 2014).  Among a sample of American males at a religious college, religious commitment slightly correlated with feeling loved (r = .27) and moderately correlated (r = .35) with ratings on a scale comprised of feeling happiness, at peace, reassured, encouraged, and validated (Inman, 2014).  Among Canadian university students, atheists tend to experience scenarios of love or sadness less intensely than do religious individuals (Burris & Patrican, 2011).

Religious thinking is sometimes positively related to one’s ability to cope with stress.  For university students in the United States, having a higher level of personal religious beliefs was associated with lower levels of hopeless, depression, and risk of suicide (Hovey, Hurtado, Morales, & Seligman, 2014).  More specifically, high religiosity was associated with high perceived emotional support, which was what lead to lower levels of hopelessness (r = -.25), depression (r = -.14), and suicidal thoughts and intents (r = -.13).  This fit with other Western studies that also found a modest relationship of religion to mental health (Hovey et al., 2014).  In patients with mental illness, their religious belief can foster optimism which was associated with small to moderate increased life satisfaction and psychological adjustment (Warren, Van Eck, Townley, & Kloos, 2015).  However, religious thinking is sometimes negatively related to one’s ability to cope with stress, both in China and in some samples within the West.  For example, after controlling for initial level of anxiety, religiosity in early adolescence slightly predicted (r2 = .01) anxiety in mid-adolescence (Peterman, LaBelle, & Steinberg, 2014).  In other words, those who participated more in religious activities in early adolescence experienced slightly higher levels of anxiety in mid-adolescence.  Among a sample of young adults in Spain, faith in God showed small negative correlations with positive relations with others (r = -.32) and autonomy (r = -.17) while not predicting overall psychological well-being (Mayordomo-Rodríguez, Meléndez-Moral, Viguer-Segui, & Sales-Galán, 2015). 

Negative religious appraisals (e.g., seeing an event as punishment from God, or that one has been abandoned by God) can cause negative emotional reactions such as anger, anxiety, and depression (Lee et al., 2013).  Among a sample of pregnant women in Spain, those who used religious coping appraisals were slightly more likely to be anxious later in the pregnancy, while those who just used social support were less likely to be anxious (Peñacoba‐Puente, Carmona‐Monge, Marín‐Morales, & Naber, 2013).  When trying to deal with the death of others, negative religious appraisals can intensify (r = .33) and lengthen (r = -.20) the grief period (Lee et al., 2013). 

Religion can lead to experiences of anxiety, sadness, guilt, fear or anger, depending on the teachings and how the teachings are imposed.  For example, religion can cause subgroups to experience negative emotions; LGBT individuals can experience anxiety if they are a member of a religion that does not support their sexual orientation (Siraj, 2012).  Relatedly, religion can be used to justify physical or emotional abuse, with emotional abuse including (a) rejecting others because of what they do or the group to which they belong, (b) physically threatening others, (c) fostering shame and (d) withholding affection for others (Simonič et al., 2013).  Religion by itself does not cause these instances of abuse, but can be used as the rationalization for the abuse (Simonič et al., 2013).  Unfortunately, religions can cause the development of an “us” versus “them” mentality, which increases the likelihood of prejudicial thinking about “others”. 

So, religious thinking often has modest positive emotional consequences and a few small differences exist among the major religions in the frequency of specific experienced emotions.  However, religious thinking can also have some negative emotional consequences, depending on both the specific thoughts and the wider culture.  

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Gender differences in emotions

If you think that men and women are fundamentally similar, but not completely identical, in their emotional reactions then you are likely to have a pretty good understanding of the internal lives of men and women.  Men and women are more emotionally similar than different, and those differences that do exist are usually quite small.  There are a few meaningful gender differences in emotions, but we would be more accurate in treating the opposite gender as a group of distinct individuals rather than as a homogenous group that is fundamentally different from our own gender.

However, it may not always seem that way as men and women sometimes act emotionally different as a result of conforming to a social stereotype.  The gender stereotype believed by much of the public is that women express their emotions more openly than do men (Whittle, Yücel,  Yap, &  Allen, 2011), that women are more expressive, excitable, relationship oriented, and more likely to be emotionally hurt than are men (Fischer, 1993).    The more they agreed with traditional gender stereotypes, the more females reported more intense emotions and the more males reported less intense emotions (Grossman & Wood, 1993).  When people's expectations of how emotional they should be are appropriately manipulated, gender differences in emotional intensity become essentially equivalent (Grossman & Wood, 1993).  The public face is sometimes chosen to match social\cultural expectations and this public face can be different than, or exaggerated from, an individual’s personal self.  Indeed, even when men and women act the same way they are frequently perceived differently (Hess, 2015) because of our social expectations.

“True” gender differences in emotions start with the ability to read people’s emotions.  Women are slightly better than men at reading subtle emotional cues from faces, but there is no gender difference when the faces are highly expressive (Hoffmann, Kessler, Eppel, Rukavina, & Traue, 2010).  Women are also slightly better at recognizing auditory cues for emotions (Lambrecht, Kreifelts, & Wildgruber, 2014).  Men are slightly biased to view the emotional expression of a woman as “alluring,” which fits with men’s higher sex drive. 

The gender differences in reading facial expressions might relate to differences in the cognitive processing in which men and women engage when evaluating facial expressions.  There is some evidence that men are more likely to process emotional stimuli in a fast, unconscious process that provides only a rough analysis, while women engage in a slower (hundreds of milliseconds), conscious process that provides more detailed information (Knyazev, Slobodskoj-Plusnin, & Bocharov, 2010).  It appears that when reading facial expressions women engage in more limbic, inferior frontal, and temporal cortical processing while men engage in more prefrontal and parietal cortical processing (Whittle et al., 2011).  This may suggest that women are engaging in more processing in areas associated with specific emotions (Whittle et al., 2011).

While women, on average, tend to outperform men in reading emotions, only 4% of differences in reading emotional facial expressions relate to gender (Hall, 1978).  This is a small effect, with individual differences playing a much, much larger role than does the slight gender difference.

Gender and emotional feelings

There are a number of adult gender differences in emotional feelings, with at least some of these appearing to be socially\culturally determined.  A meta-analysis (Else-Quest, Higgins, Allison, & Morton, 2012) of 382 studies determined that women are slightly more likely to feel guilt (d = .27) and shame (d = .29).  Guilt involves a negative appraisal about our own, controllable, behaviour while shame involves a negative appraisal about our personality.  Gender difference in guilt most often concern food (d = .38), sex (d = .21), and ethnicity\nationality (d = .23), while gender differences about shame are most often about body\appearance (d = .50) (Else-Quest et al., 2012).  Women are more likely to experience emotional jealousy (a response to perceived emotional infidelity by their partner), but there is no gender difference in the experience of sexual jealousy (Zandbergen & Brown, 2015). 

Table 5

In the United States, men more frequently experience positive emotions (i.e., happiness, excitement, and calm) and less frequently experience negative emotions (i.e., sadness, anxiety, and anger) than do women, due to socialization and cultural norms favouring men (Simon, 2014).  Similarly, men in both France and Belgium generally experience fewer different types (diversity) of negative emotions, and experience them less frequently, than do women (Quaidbach et al., 2014).  When viewing positive visual emotional stimuli, men have shown greater brain activity than did women in the frontal cortex and the amygdala (Whittle et al, 2011).  Men also show greater brain activity to facial expressions of contempt, perhaps because this may be a cue to dominance, something that may be more salient for them (Whittle et al, 2011).  Women are more reactive to threatening stimuli, both cardiovascularly (Lysenko & Davydov, 2012) and in brain reactivity in a variety of regions, including the amygdala (Whittle et al, 2011). 

In a review article (Fischer, 1993) of older studies that used participant self-reports, it was found that men and women differed in the frequency with which they experienced shame and guilt (women experienced more), love and contempt (men experience more), but not anger or joy.  The self-report data also indicated that women experienced more intense feelings of anger, joy, sadness, fear, and love (Fischer, 1993).  Grossman and Wood (1993) reported EMG (facial muscle) data that was consistent with much of the self-report data. 

Regarding love specifically, more recent findings suggest that although women and men generally seek the same psychological traits in partners, more women have a pragmatic attitude towards love while more men have a romantic and erotic orientation toward love.  For example, women who are dating online are more likely to show interest in men who are not physically attractive if those men report having a very, very high annual income (Miller, 2012), although women also tend to report more relationship satisfaction when they report their partner to be passionate and loving (Aumer, 2014).  Men tend to report moderately more relationship satisfaction when they report their partner to be romantic and passionate about sex, and report less relationship satisfaction when their sexual partner is shy or embarrassed about sex (Aumer, 2014). 

While gender differences in experienced emotions generally tend to be small, gender differences in anxiety and depression appear to be greater and of considerable importance.  In Canada and the United States, women appear to be moderately (d = .27 - .40) more anxious than are men (Hyde, 2014), and more women than men are likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders (Chaplin, 2015; Simon, 2014).  However, note that there are no gender differences in anxiety in Japan, among Black South Africans (Hyde, 2014), or among rural Iranians (Khodarahimi, Deghani, & Nikpourian, 2014).   

In childhood in the Canada and the United States, boys show more symptoms of depression than do girls, but in adolescence girls show slightly higher depression scores than do boys (Hyde, 2014).  This change appears in adolescence at least partly because girls are faced with more stressors imposed by society (e.g., physical appearance and conformity to gender roles) and ruminate more over these stressors (Lyubomirsky, Layous, Chancellor, & Nelson, 2015).  As adults, women are more likely to feel depressed (Quaidbach et al., 2014) and are approximately twice as likely as men to become clinically depressed (Hyde, 2014).  Some (e.g., Hyde, 2014; Zahn-Waxler, Shirtcliff, & Marceau, 2008) have suggested that the reasons for this are a combination of genetic predisposition, the occurrence of negative emotions, and maladaptive thinking.  Women tend to learn through socialization that they often have little control over many situations (Lyubomirsky et al., 2015).  Women are more likely than men to overanalyse the causes and possible outcomes of stressors, while more men than women use problem-solving and positive thinking strategies (Whittle et al., 2011) or distract themselves from stressors.  However, note that gender differences in depression (as with anxiety) were not found among rural Iranians (Khodarahimi et al., 2014).

Gender and emotional expressions

Women are slightly more emotionally expressive for both positive emotions (Chaplin, 2015) and negative emotions (Simon, 2014).  More specifically, women are slightly more animated for expressions of happiness, sadness, and anxiety, while men are slightly more animated for expressions of anger and aggression (Chaplin, 2015).  These do not appear to be differences in intensity, but rather men are somewhat more likely to control and mask their emotions while women are more likely to share their emotions with their friends and family, and women are more likely to mask their feelings of anger.  The finding that women are more expressive certainly correlates with the public’s stereotype of women being more emotional than men. 

Gender differences in emotional expressions show developmental differences.  Girls show more inhibitory control than do boys (Chaplin & Aldo, 2013).  A meta-analysis (Chaplin & Aldo, 2013) of 166 objective studies of emotional expression of children\adolescents below the age of 18 years found that girls express slightly more of (unspecified) positive emotions (g = .20 in childhood, g = .28 in adolescence; g is interpreted similar to d), fear (g = .10), sympathy (g = .13), and contempt (g = .26) than do boys.  Girls also express moderately more shame (g = .56) than do boys.  Boys were found to express slightly more anger (g = .10) and schadenfreude (g = .29), and moderately more pride (g = .42) than did girls.     

Girls are slightly more likely that are boys to engage in verbal aggression intended to damage peer relations (Hyde, 2014).  Boys are moderately more likely (d = .55) to engage in more physical aggression (Hyde, 2014).  With adolescence, girls displayed moderately more (g = .35) negative emotions than did boys, and girls also displayed slightly more (g = .27) externalizing emotions (e.g., anger, contempt) than did boys.  Adolescent girls showing more anger appears to signal a significant change from previous generations (Chaplin & Aldo, 2013).  Although it has been suggested that gender differences in aggression are hormonally determined, this generational change is more consistent with the hypothesis that females used to be more socialized to inhibit their aggressive impulses while males were more socialized to act upon their aggressive impulses. 

Note that context plays a role in gender differences in emotional expression.  Children’s gender differences in emotional expression were only evident when the children were in the presence of peers or an unfamiliar adult, but not when a parent was present (Chaplin & Aldo, 2013).

Gender and coping strategies

The gender differences in actual emotional feelings appear to be directly related to gender differences in the coping strategies used when dealing with an emotional experience.  Not surprisingly, gender differences in coping strategies are also cultural determined.

For example, among adolescent and adult Germans, although there are no gender differences in the use of adaptive regulation (e.g., constructively addressing the problem or using reappraisal) or dysregulation (e.g., blaming others), there are small (η2 = .12) differences in other coping strategies with women more likely to use social support seeking and rumination, and men more likely to use passivity (e.g., wait and see), avoidance (e.g., leave), and suppression (Zimmerman & Iwanski, 2014).  Within a combined Australian and United Kingdom sample, women were very slightly more likely to use reappraisal while men were slightly more likely to use suppression (partial η2 < .01) as coping strategies (Spaapen, Waters, Brummer, Stopa, & Bucks, 2014).  However, a study (Monteiro, Balogun, & Oratile, 2014) of university students in Botswana suggests no gender differences in coping strategies.

In Canada and the United States, women are more likely than men to use an avoidance strategy (i.e., avoiding confrontation and avoiding thinking about the conflict) to deal with relationship conflict in the workplace, but men experience less emotional exhaustion when using this strategy than do women (Bear, Weingart, & Todorova, 2014).  In the United States, more men than women try to cope with their problems through alcohol or other substance abuse (Simon, 2014).  Women are more likely to use rumination while men are more likely to use suppression or distraction.  Interestingly, for middle-aged women, risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 8% for women who used reappraisal, while increased by 12% for women who used suppression (Appleton, Loucks, Buka, & Kubzansky, 2014).  For middle-aged men, risk of cardiovascular disease was unaffected by the use of reappraisal or suppression (Appleton et al., 2014). 

Among older (65+ years) Americans, gender differences in coping strategies sometimes depend on ethnicity.  For example, older Caucasian American women are more likely than their male counterparts to attempt to change the stressor, to think about the stressor in a more positive way, to plan, to seek emotional support, and to use religion as strategies for dealing with stressors (Lee & Mason, 2014).  On the other hand, older Caucasian American men are more likely than their female counterparts to use humour as a strategy for dealing with stressors.  However, older Korean American women are more likely than their male counterparts to use denial and religion as strategies for dealing with stressors, while older Korean American men are more likely than their female counterparts to use substance abuse as a strategy for dealing with stressors. 

How exactly do gender differences in emotional feelings, expression and coping get socialized within the family?  In Spain, both well-educated mothers and fathers use slightly more emotional words (proportionally) during play with 4-year-old daughters than with 4-year-old sons, with the daughters using more emotional words while speaking to their father (Aznar & Tenenbaum, 2015).  Gender differences in verbal emotional expression appear at about 6-years of age when girls use more positive emotional words and boys use more negative emotional words (Aznar & Tenenbaum, 2015). 



Our emotional experiences, both positive and negative ones, within the family context tend to play key roles in our life experiences and in our overall quality of life.  Hopefully, we have some happy memories of our family life.  We also probably have some unhappy memories of experiences within our family.  However, families play an even more important role than providing emotional experiences.  This is because families play a major role in teaching family members, particularly children, how to interact with others outside of the family. Specifically, within families we learn what we should and should not emotionally react to, what emotions and what intensity levels are appropriate in given situations, and we learn when to mask our emotions.  We learn [at least most of us learn!] to regulate our emotions and to control our impulsive outbursts.  Within the family we are taught these things both directly (through emotional coaching) and indirectly (through observational learning and cognitive priming) by other family members, and what we are taught might influence us for a lifetime.

Psychologists should have a particular interest in how families emotionally respond to adversity.  Part of this interest is that when looking at how families deal with stress we see more clearly how families teach appropriate emotional responses.  Almost all families have to deal with adversity at some point, but some families have to face a host of adversities.  Examples of adversities include: a single parent, family violence, addiction, separation (e.g., military deployment), prejudice (e.g., racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation), economic stress (e.g., unemployment), psychological problems (e.g., depression and anxiety), or health crises (e.g., cancer).  What can make some adversities even more challenging is that their origins may not be readily apparent.  For example, mothers who were unusually stressed during pregnancy tend to give birth to infants who have increased sympathetic nervous system activity, even in childhood (Propper & Holochwost, 2013).  Likewise, infants born by caesarean operation are more likely at 5-years of age to be rated (by their mother) higher in anxiety\depression (Kelmanson, 2013).  This is the case even when the caesarean was not a medical necessity, but only the mother’s preference.

How families deal with their adversities depends on the family.  Some families are quite resilient when dealing with adversity (they fair very well) while other families are quite non-resilient (they fair very poorly), with most families probably falling in between.  In either case, the emotional makeup of the family will affect how they deal with stress and whether or not there will be long-term consequences. 

Resilient families tend to remain emotionally mature despite adversities.  They appear to do this because of the particular characteristics that they possess (Henry, Morris, & Harrist, 2015).  These characteristics include set routines and a cherishing of family times (e.g., family meals together); they show trust and loyalty towards each other, and they share similar values and meaning (e.g., identity, spirituality, and recreation); they tend to have a positive outlook (e.g., optimism and hope), have an internal locus of control (i.e., primarily see themselves as responsible for their fate) and share a commitment to the family (Henry et al., 2015).  These characteristics help these families to adapt to a crisis through the positive use of emotional regulation, communication, control (i. e., family routines, reasonable rules that are consistently enforced), maintenance (i.e., interactions that provide the basic needs), monitoring, and stress response systems (MacPhee, Lunkenheimer, & Riggs, 2015). 

Some of the specific behaviours seen in these families include sharing emotions that they are experiencing, and socializing emotions so that family members can regulate their own emotional responses (Henry et al., 2015; MacPhee et al., 2015).  They socialize emotions through their showing appropriate sensitivity, support, and commitment to each other, and through emotional coaching – including the teaching of cognitive reappraisal and conflict resolution skills.  In addition, these families generally have a positive emotional atmosphere.  The expression of positive emotions within American families correlates moderately (r = .46) with emotional regulation in the children (Suveg et al., 2014).  Loving and supportive parents not only have children who tend to be happy, but these children become biologically resistant to the negative effects of later stress (Bai & Repetti, 2015). 

Resilient families tend to have open communications, they collectively problem-solve, and are flexible when dealing with changing circumstances (Henry et al., 2015).  This flexibility is sometimes manifest in terms of the roles that family members play (“you mean that Dad can actually cook?!”) or in their coping strategies (MacPhee et al., 2015). 

Needless to say (perhaps?), resilient families often differ in their combination of these protective characteristics, processes, and specific behaviours (MacPhee et al., 2015).  Presumably, the more of these factors that are present in a family, the more likely it is that the family will be resilient.

When non-resilient families face adversity it can disrupt parent-child interactions.  In these cases, parenting can go wrong in several ways.  One way it can go wrong is when parents emotionally manipulate their children.  They can do this by threatening to, or actually, withdrawing their love to get their child to do something.  They may also make their child feel guilty or shameful over something simply to exercise control over their child.  The outcome in these cases is likely to be an increase in child anxiety.

Another way that parenting can go wrong is when young children are exposed to high levels of negative emotions in the family.  Generally, the level of negative emotions expressed in families is moderately correlated (r = .46) with difficulty in child emotional regulation (Suveg et al., 2014).  Family chaos is also related to lower child emotional regulation and is predictive of later aggression (MacPhee et al., 2015).  Early exposure to high levels of parental conflict leads to both (a) poor development of emotional regulation and (b) later elevated levels of anxiety, depression, and aggression (Propper & Holochwost, 2013).

Adolescents who are exposed to marked different level of control from their parents also tend to do worse at emotional regulation, which in turn results in their experiencing higher levels of anxiety (Luebbe, Bump, Fussner, & Rulon, 2014).  A longitudinal study (Kim & Cicchette, 2010) found that lower-class children who experienced abuse or neglect are somewhat poorer at emotional regulation, leading to moderately more externalizing behaviours (e.g., aggression and\or delinquent-type behaviors), which then leads to a slightly increased chance of later peer rejection.

Infant\Childhood attachment

Expectations can play an important role in how we interact with others.  These expectations are often closely tied to our emotions and both often have a bidirectional association with our social interactions.  That is, what we expect from and feel about someone will influence how we interact with that person, and the interaction may cause us to refine our expectations and feelings.

A particularly significant expectation that is initially learned in infancy is the expected quality of interactions one will have with others in the family.  These expectations are tied to the quality of our emotional attachment to family members.  These expectations (referred to as internal working models) and emotional attachments, although relatively stable and long-lasting, can be malleable (Stievenart, Roskam, Meunier, & Van de Moortele, 2014); can generalize to others; and operate at both unconscious and conscious levels.  The expectations and emotional attachment with our primary caregiver (usually mom) can be influential on our later childhood and adolescent interactions with others.

Despite what parents usually think, Infants are actually not born with an emotional attachment to their mother or father.  Rather, the quality of the infant’s attachment develops in response to the quality of that parent’s interactions with the infant.  Infant\child attachments can be either positive (secure) or negative (insecure), or mixed, or neutral.  Securely attached infants have a positive emotional bond with their caregiver, seek their caregiver out when needing comfort, and because of this emotional security these infants can better explore their environment (Breinholst, Esbjørn, & Reinholdt-Dunne, 2015).  For children to develop a secure emotional attachment to their primary caregiver (usually mom), that caregiver must consistently show a variety of positive behaviours towards her infant.  These behaviours include (a) being sensitive to her infant’s needs and being good as interpreting her infant’s behaviours that signal these needs, (b) responding promptly to her infant’s need for attention, (c) expressing warmth and affection towards her infant, (d) promoting her child’s overall development, and (e) providing a high quality of physical care for her infant.  Secure attachment will continue during childhood and adolescence if the caregiver continues to show these behaviours along with (f) consistent discipline (but not physical discipline) of children\adolescents for the breech of reasonable and explicit rules, (g) good communication, and (h) fostering a moderate amount of independence.  Infants\children will develop an insecure attachment to their caregiver to the extent that these caregiver behaviors are not shown or are inconsistently shown towards the infant\child\adolescent.  Note that attachment type need not be a fixed trait but rather can change when the caregiver’s behaviours change. Infants\children\adolescents can also have different attachment types towards different parents to the extent that each parent behaves differently towards the infant\child\adolescent.   

There are three different types of insecure attachment: (a) insecure (anxious/resistant), (b) insecure (anxious/avoidant), and (c) insecure (disorganized/disoriented).  Insecure (anxious/resistant) children tend to be very anxious, clingy, cry more than other children when their primary caregiver (usually mom) leaves their presence, and have difficulty in calming themselves and settling down.  Insecure (anxious/resistant) children have often received inconsistent and less sensitive care when they were young infants (Isabella, 1993).  Insecure (anxious/avoidant) children tend to avoid their caregiver and do not show that they are upset when their caregiver leaves their presence.  Insecure (anxious/avoidant) children have often, as older infants, been exposed to rejecting behaviour (e.g., anger, controlling, physical interference) from their caregiver (Isabella, 1993).  Insecure (disorganized/disoriented) children are more aggressive and are more likely to have later behaviour problems.  Insecure (disorganized/disoriented) children tend to have been frightened by the behaviour of their troubled (e.g., dysfunctional marriage, depressed) caregiver, including the caregiver emotionally withdrawing from them (Miljkovitch et al., 2013).

There are host of consequences of particular attachment types.  Children’s physiological reactions to stressful or traumatic events are influenced by the quality of their attachment to their parents (Gunnar & Quevedo, 2007).  Children who have a secure attachment to their parents have a more moderate physiological reaction to stress than do children who have an insecure attachment to their parents (Gunnar & Quevedo, 2007).  When mothers are less responsive to their children these children become more vulnerable to the stressful effects of family turmoil, poverty, crowding, and substandard housing (Evans, Kim, Ting, Tesher, & Shannis, 2007).  Interestingly, maternal overprotection and lack of maternal care are both associated with alexithymia (Thorberg, 2011).

Securely attached infants develop a better sense of being competent and develop more trust in others.  Securely attached infants tend (R2 = .08) to develop into kindergarteners who, independent of their general cognitive functioning and family socioeconomic status, have better executive functioning (e.g., attention, working memory, and planning) (Bernier, Beauchamp, Carlson, & Lalonde, 2015).  Securely attached 15-month0old infants develop into elementary children who are slightly better (d = .20) at social self-control (Drake, Belsky, & Fearon, 2014).  Securely attached infants are more likely to become children who have better leadership, self-esteem, social interaction skills, and higher school achievement (Sroufe, Coffino, & Carlson, 2010), although these effects tend to be small in magnitude (Sroufe et al., 2010).  Adolescents who are securely attached in how they viewed their childhood interactions with parents are more popular with peers, have better peer relationships, and experience less peer pressure (R = .33) (Allen, Porter, McFarland, McElhaney, & Marsh, 2007).

In contrast, children from insecure relationships with their mother are more likely to have higher anxiety (Breinholst
et al., 2015), develop a poor self-esteem, experience later depression, drug use, aggression (Michiels, Grietens, Onghena, & Kuppens, 2008) and delinquency.  The relationship between insecure attachment and internalizing behaviours (i.e., anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal) is small to moderate (d = .37) in size, with a larger effect for males (d = .71) than for females (d = .26) (Madigan, Atkinson, Laurin, & Benoit, 2013).  Disorganized attachment in infancy is moderately related to psychopathology in adolescence and adulthood (Sroufe et al, 2010).  Finally, in what is both sad and scary for society, an insecure infant who is separated from his\her parents for an extended period of time may emotionally withdraw from people in general.
Although it is difficult to disentangle the long-term effects of attachment from other aspects of parenting and from socioeconomic status, it appears that a parent’s warmth, love and attention to her or his child can have a wide-ranging effect on that child’s life.  In fact, institutionalized infants who are cared for physically, but who are not allowed to form an emotional bond with their caregiver, are at higher risk of infant death.


A considerable part of our life revolves around interactions with our friends and this frequently (hopefully!) makes our life emotionally richer.  During childhood and adolescence we tend to experience more positive emotions with friends than with non-friends (Ramsey & Gentzler, 2015).  Friends give our life more meaning and flavour (usually sweet, sometimes spicy, perhaps occasionally sour or bitter). 

Personality and friendship

Young children’s personality is predictive of the quality of their interactions with peers.  High surgency (active and extroverted) and low negative emotions are associated with more positive peer interactions (Endedijk, Cillessen, Cox, Bekkering, & Hunnius, 2015).  More specifically, friendship satisfaction is associated with: (a) being more extraverted, agreeable, and conscientious, (b) being less neurotic, and (c) having more interactions and deeper conversations (Wilson, Harris, & Vazire, 2015).  Success in social relations also relates to empathy (Fink, Begeer, Hunt, & de Rosnay, 2014).  Children who have positive social interactions with peers tend to be friendly and sensitive and not argumentative or aggressive (Barbarin, 2013). 

In addition, a child’s success in social relations with peers is influenced by that child’s understanding of his or her own emotions and the emotions of others, effortful control of his or her emotions (i.e., emotional regulation; Endedijk et al., 2015), and ability to display and to read facial and body expressions.  Not surprisingly, six-year-olds in Italy who are high in emotional understanding are more likely to have reciprocal, as opposed to unidirectional, friendships (Laghi et al., 2014).  Eight grade (13-year-olds) Australian girls who have a better understanding of their own emotions tend to have slightly more female friends and slightly less male friends in grade twelve (Rowsell, Ciarrochi, Heaven, & Deane, 2014).  However, the same is not true for 13-year-olds Australian boys.  This difference may be due to girls’ friendships being more intimate, involving both more emotional content and self-disclosure (Rowsell et al., 2014).  For young German adolescents, the number of reciprocal friendships is predicted by ability to self-disclose (von Salisch et al., 2014). Self-disclosure may be difficult for anxious individuals.  

Emotional control and peers

Being able to regulate one’s emotions ensures that there will be more episodes of positive emotions (e.g., fun and excitement) that foster peer relations and fewer episodes of negative emotions that hinder peer relations.  From preschool through adulthood, emotional regulation is important for social competence and successful peer relations.  Better emotional regulation by preschoolers predicts slightly lower chances of peer rejection or physical victimization several months later (Godleski, Kamper, Ostrov, Hart, & Blakely-McClure, 2015).  Those 5-year-olds with better emotional regulation have better than average social skills as 7-year-olds, which in turn predicts higher peer acceptance and better quality friendships as 10-year-olds (Blair et al., 2015).

Shyness at age 2-3 slightly predicts less emotional regulation as 5-year-olds (Penela et al., 2015).  Problems with emotional regulation in kindergarten and grade 1 predicts peer rejection and victimization later in elementary school (r = .08-.31) (Bierman, Kalvin, & Heinrichs, 2015).  This elementary school peer rejection in turn predicts early adolescent social problems, while elementary school victimization predicts early adolescent school difficulties and delinquency (Bierman et al., 2015). 

One positive approach to coping with stress in peer relationships is to try to identify and implement a solution that will solve the problem in a positive way.  This can both make the individual feel better and strengthen relationships with others.  For example, one study (Abraham & Kerns, 2013) conducted in a summer camp setting found that 8- to 12-year-old girls who used positive problem-solving coping strategies were somewhat less likely (r = -.25) to experience negative emotions and moderately more likely (r = .44) to experience positive emotions, while the experience of positive emotions was positively associated (r =.38) with the quality of the relationship with their best friend at camp.

Peer influence on emotions

Emotions in children’s friendships can be constrained, or changed, by the behaviour of peers.  For example, in one small sample (Kyratzis, 2001) of American preschool boys, the boys told each other that it was inappropriate to express being afraid, thereby signifying that being unafraid was the social norm for boys.  This is one of the ways that boys in our culture learn to act as if they are unafraid, even if they may indeed be afraid.

Adolescents use a variety of strategies to socialize emotional expressions: rewarding, overriding (suggesting a different emotional response), magnifying, neglecting (ignore the emotional response), or punishing an individual for his or her emotional (or lack thereof) behaviour.  American and Canadian girls are more likely to use reward, override, and magnify strategies to influence their friends’ behaviour while boys are more likely to use neglect and punishment (insults, physical threats, or gossip) to influence their friends’ behaviour (Klimes-Dougan et al., 2014).  These strategies can be effective as seen, for example, that when friends reward a young adolescent’s emotional talk by being supportive, that friend is more likely to disclose emotions to them at a later time (Legerski, Biggs, Greenhoot, & Sampilo, 2015).

Social experiences with peers affect the quality of friendships while, in turn, having close friendships can improve social understanding and skills.  There appears to be a bidirectional relationship between positive close relationships and positive emotions that continues over the life span (Ramsey & Gentzler, 2015).  Thus, positive close relationships create positive emotions which increase the chances of positive close relationships which... 

Interactions with peers help young adults to successfully transition to adulthood.  Being intimate, humorous and sharing emotion with each other are some of the emotional skills that aid in this transition (Young et al., 2015).  

Peers and problematic emotional health

Emotional problems may both cause and result from not having friends or from having very negative peer interactions.  There are several emotion related factors within the individual that may trigger poor peer relations.  For example, social skills deficits in adolescents predict degree of loneliness 10 months later (Wols, Scholte, & Qualter, 2015).  In turn, being lonely slightly impairs the ability to regulate emotions (Wols et al., 2015) which itself predicts quality of peer interactions.  A second example is that children with an anxiety disorder who also have poor social functioning are more likely to exhibit: (a) frequent negative emotions, (b) a suboptimal balance between negative and positive emotions, and (c) an unwillingness to share their emotions with peers (Jacob, Suveg, & Whitehead, 2014).  A final example is that callous, unemotional, and uncaring older children and young adults are poor at emotional regulation and experience high levels of anger (Ciucci, Baroncelli, Golmaryami, & Frick, 2015).

The quality of peer interactions can partially determine one’s psychological health.  Children who are rejected by peers are more likely to feel anxious, embarrassed, and lonely (Morrow, Hubbard, Barhight, & Thomson, 2014).  Children who experience peer victimization or exclusion are more likely to subsequently feel depressed and/or angry, although they will feel these emotions to a slightly lesser extent if they are supported by a friend (Reavis, Donohue, & Upchurch, 2015).  Among 5th graders, peer victimization is associated with increased feelings of sadness, anger, embarrassment, and anxiety (Morrow et al., 2014).  More specifically, being physical victimized was associated with feeling sad, anger, embarrassed, and nervous; being verbally victimized was associated with feeling angry and embarrassed; while being socially rebuffed was associated with feeling anxious.  However, boys were sensitive to peer victimization only if they are also rejected by their peers, while girls were sensitive to peer victimization regardless of whether they had been accepted or rejected by their peers (Morrow et al., 2014). 

In summary, our emotions influence our interactions with peers while at the same time peers influence our emotional reactions.  Our personality along with our ability to regulate our own emotional reactions, together determine a considerable part of our social success.  Peers can use direct instruction, reward, punishment, and focusing of attention (i.e., magnifying) to influence our emotions and, thusly, our psychological health. 

Current technology: Social network sites & mobile phones

A significant portion of contemporary social interactions is mediated through technology, especially through social network sites (e.g., Facebook) and mobile phones.  In general, our experience with technology makes us feel good if it helps us feel popular, connected with others, competent, and if it is stimulating (Hassenzahl, Diefenbach, & Goritz, 2010).  Both Facebook messaging and mobile phone texting are often used to convey emotional information that can deepen personal relationships.  However, because Facebook messaging and mobile phone texting generally lack non-verbal facial, body, and vocal cues (Kato & Kato, 2015), they may increase the chance of a misunderstanding between individuals.

Currently, most adolescents, young adults and a fair number of middle-aged adults spend some time every day on Facebook or other social networking sites.  Facebook is a major tool that people use to express themselves, to socialize with others, and to fulfill a sense of belonging.  It is frequently used for a public depiction of self and for self-disclosure of emotions.  It allows people to easily and frequently connect with a large network of friends and is a platform for social support\comment. 

Several aspects of people’s personality relate to Facebook usage.  Australian Facebook users tend to be more extraverted, less conscientious (combined η2 = .24), and just a touch more self-centered (η2 = .01) than are nonusers of Facebook (Ryan & Xenos, 2011).  Time spent on Facebook correlates somewhat with neuroticism (r = .20) and loneliness (r = .15) (Ryan & Xenos, 2011).  People high in attachment anxiety are slightly more frequent (partial r = .15) Facebook users, especially when they are feeling negative emotions (Oldmeadow, Quinn, & Kowert, 2013).  Those high in attachment anxiety appear to use Facebook as a means of comfort (Oldmeadow et al., 2013).  Individuals who are shy or have low self-esteem also tend to spend more time on Facebook (Oldmeadow et al., 2013).

Facebook conversations and posts evoke a variety of emotions.  Facebook conversations generally involve positive emotions (about 37% of the time) or mixed (bittersweet) emotions (40%), but occasionally involve only negative emotions (6%) (Davalos et al., 2015).  A sample (Davalos et al., 2015) of 207 Americans after they read Facebook posts found: 64% felt pleasant, 66% felt connected, 64% felt informed, 54% felt entertained, 12% felt envious, 11% felt jealous, 10% felt annoyed, and 10% felt frustrated.  Nostalgic (e.g., “My life was better when ...”) Facebook posts often involve themes of family, life events, spirituality, or romanticism (Davalos et al., 2015).

The emotions experienced sometimes correlate with characteristics of the user’s network.  Facebook users are most likely to feel happy when reading someone’s post on Facebook if they have a strong personal tie to that person (R. Lin & Utz, 2015).  Those Facebook users with larger networks are slightly more likely (r = .29) to communicate positive emotions (Lin, Tov, & Qiu, 2014).  Facebook users with more close friends are slightly more likely (r = .22) to disclose negative emotions (Lin et al., 2014).  
Experimental evidence suggests that emotions expressed in text can spread from one user to others over Facebook (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014).  These shared emotions may even last for several days (Kramer et al., 2014).  However, it is possible it may have been conformity that was partly measured rather than only emotions that involved autonomic nervous system reactions.  In either case, it should be noted that the observed effect of emotional contagion via Facebook was very weak (d = .02).

For many people, impression management is easier to accomplish on Facebook than in face-to-face interactions.  Many Facebook users seem to have a bias to display fewer negative emotions in status updates than in less public facets of Facebook (Bazarova, Taft, Choi, & Cosley, 2013).  However, users were less concerned with their self-presentation the more (r = -.31) familiar they were with the people who were likely to see the message (Bazarova et al., 2013). 

Stressors that can arise from Facebook usage include: pressure from social comparisons, dealing with unwanted content, feeling the need to constantly check Facebook, and online relationship tension or conflict (Fox & Moreland, 2015).  Some individuals may feel stressed about their public (self-presentation) image.  These various stressors might cause individuals to feel anxiety, jealousy, or disgust (Fox & Moreland, 2015).  Some individuals experience jealousy if their partner communicates with specific others over social media (Zandbergen & Brown, 2015) or spends “too much time” on social media.  “Unfriending” someone on Facebook also can be a major stressor.

Other behaviors on Facebook that are linked with negative emotions include being cyber-bullied, harassed, or stalked online.  Common emotional reactions to online relational bullying include embarrassment, anger, sadness, fear, lowered self-esteem, and loneliness (Horner, Asher, & Fireman, 2015).  Individuals who accept an ex-partner as a friend on Facebook tend to be more anxious and much more depressed (particularly men) than those who did not accept such invitations (Tsai, Shen, & Chiang, 2015).  However, Facebook generally contributes to depression only if Facebook causes feelings of envy (Tandoc, Ferrucci, & Duffy, 2015), with Facebook envy accounting for approximately 28% of depression variance. 

Cell phone users prefer texting somewhat more when sharing positive events whereas they prefer phone calling (audio) slightly more when sharing negative events, with in both cases a concurrent heightening their emotional experience from this social sharing (Choi & Toma, 2014).  However, face-to-face interaction is still generally preferred over cell phone use if sharing positive or negative events (Choi & Toma, 2014).

Personality is related to what people text about.  Women higher on neuroticism text a few (r = .18) more negative emotion words while people higher on agreeableness text a few (r = -.25) less negative emotional words (Holtgraves, 2011).  Those higher in extraversion or agreeableness text slightly fewer words denoting anxiety or anger (Holtgraves, 2011).  Finally, extraverts text a little more (r =.14) about sex (Holtgraves, 2011). 

There appear to be three types of people regarding their expectation for speed of response to different emotional content (Kato & Kato, 2015).  One group expects a quick response to a positive emotional message and a slow response to a negative emotional message.  Another group (high neurotic?) was the opposite: they expect a slow response to a positive emotional message and a quick response to a negative emotional message.  A third group expects a quick response to an apology whereas the other two groups did not.

Cell phone use does come with some potential serious problems.  For instance, many people experience anxiety if they are without their cell phone.   More seriously, if people sext (send someone a racy picture of themselves), that picture may be forwarded (either immediately or at some later time) to others without the knowledge or consent of the original person.  This could potentially lead to harassment, or if the original sender was underage, to criminal charges for anyone who forwarded the picture.  A second serious problem is that people sometimes text while driving in an attempt (r = .35) to regulate their negative emotions (Feldman, Greeson, Renna, & Robbins-Monteith, 2011).  However, using a cell phone while driving increases the risk of an accident by 40% (Nurullah, Thomas, & Vakilian, 2013).  [Don’t do it!!]  A third problem is that texting in class can seriously hurt one’s chance of doing well in the class.  One experiment (McDonald, 2013) found that, after controlling for GPA, in-class texting led to a lower final course grade.  Note that in-class texting had a moderately negative effect on grade (r = -.47).

Adult Attachment

For a large number of older adolescents and adults, the social relationship that carries the biggest emotional impact is the relationship with their romantic partner(s).  Although most of us do not realize it, the quality of our adult romantic relationships may be influenced by our (subjectively perceived) attachment to our parents.  Attachment Theory (see Hazan & Shaver, 1987) suggests that our early infant\childhood attachment to our mother (or whoever was our primary caregiver) became represented in a “mental model” and that this mental model later directly affects our romantic attachment in adulthood (Fraley, 2002).

According to Attachment Theory, the mental model of attachment is an unconscious understanding of how close social relations work, based on the infant’s\child’s experiences with his or her mother.  In other words, the mental model is a type (e.g., script\scheme) of representation in memory that includes expectations of the other’s (i.e., mother’s) responses in situations that are stressful for the child.  The mental model further includes the child’s emotional responses to these stressful situations. 

One variant of Attachment Theory sees attachment type as being consistent from infancy\childhood through to adulthood.  This “trait” approach leads to three hypotheses.  First, infants\children who have a stable attachment will have healthy romantic relationships as adults.  Second, children with an insecure (anxious/resistant) attachment are more likely to be “addicted” to love as an adult.  These would be clingy adults who cannot break off a relationship even though all of their friends are saying “For heaven’s sake, get out of that toxic relationship!!!  He\she is no good for you!!”  A third prediction of the trait approach to Attachment Theory is that children with an insecure (anxious/avoidant) attachment are more likely to be afraid to commit to a relationship as an adult. These would be adults who bail out of relationships when the relationships start to become serious.

A second variant of Attachment Theory is that it is only how adults interpret their childhood attachments that affect their current adult relationships (Fraley, 2002).  This is more a “state” approach than a “trait” approach.  It assumes that the mental model of attachment can be altered with different experiences in intimate relationships.  Support for this position comes from the finding (Overbeek, Stattin, Vermulst, Ha, & Engels, 2007) of no significant bivariate correlation of the quality mother-child relationship (measured during childhood) with the quality of later romantic partner relationship at age 25 and age 35.  Furthermore, we know that infant attachment type can change when the quality of the maternal interactions with her infant change.  Thus, insecure attachments can become secure attachments when the attachment figure becomes more sensitive, attentive, and consistent in expressing her affection.  Likewise, secure attachments can become insecure when the attachment figure becomes less sensitive, attentive, and consistent in expressing her affection.

Nonetheless, the trait approach to understanding attachment may be particularly useful when describing specific groups of people or specific adult behaviors.  For example, one longitudinal study (Zayas, Mischel, Shoda, & Aber, 2011) reported that the quality of interactions with one’s mother at 18 months of age predicts one’s later anxiety and avoidance in romantic relationships as an adult (but note that the study consisted of only 15 individuals).  This study did not measure infant attachment directly, but measured maternal control, sensitivity and unresponsiveness in a play setting, and later adult attachment was measured via a questionnaire.  Those whose mothers had been less sensitive and more controlling were more likely to be anxious and avoidant with their romantic partners.  These findings were of moderate to strong magnitude (r = .5 - .7).  A separate longitudinal study (Moutsiana, 2014) found that attachment type at 18-months of age predicted ability to enhance a positive emotion 20 years later.  Yet another longitudinal study (Pascuzza, Cyr, & Moss, 2013) found that parental rated attachment with their son\daughter at age 14, moderately predicted (r = -.49) a higher level of their son’s\daughter’s anxiety in romantic attachments at age 22.  However, attachment at age 14 did not predict avoidant romantic attachment at age 22 (Pascuzza et al., 2013). 

Adult attachment type has been measured in a number of ways (for a review see Sochos, 2013).  One way is how people describe in a narrative their current view of their childhood interactions with their caretakers.  Another way is through a questionnaire that measures their anxiety and their avoidant tendencies in adult intimate relationships.  The results of both of these kinds of measurement can be described as categories while the results of adult questionnaires can also be described as dimensions.  Both approaches have provided informative findings about adult attachment.

Findings from the categorical approach to adult attachment

Adults can be classified as having secure, dismissing, preoccupied, or fearful avoidant attachment types.  Dismissing adults distance themselves from attachment needs, preferring independence and self-sufficiency, and either idealize or forget their childhood experiences (Haydon, Roisman, Marks, & Fraley, 2011).  This bears some resemblance to the infant anxious/avoidant attachment type.  Preoccupied adults become emotional when discussing their childhood experiences (Haydon et al., 2011).  This bears some resemblance to an infant anxious/resistant attachment type.

Adults who are classified as securely attached (regarding their childhood experiences) tend to have better quality interactions with their lovers (Roisman, 2007).  Securely attached adults have lower levels of physiological reaction when in a disagreement with their spouse (Roisman, 2007). In other words, they get less upset with their partners when disagreeing with them, compared with insecurely attached adults.

Preoccupied adults score higher on neuroticism than do secure adults, who in turn score higher than do dismissing adults (Reiner & Spangler, 2013).  Preoccupied adults appear to express more anxiety, more anger, and need more reassurance in their romantic relationships.  They also report more guilt and sadness.  They tend to exaggerate threats, are pessimistic, and have difficulty in regulating their negative emotions.  Preoccupied and fearful avoidant (those high on both anxiety and avoidance) individuals are more likely to display symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and depression than do securely attached individuals, likely due to poor emotional regulation strategies (Marganska, Gallagher, & Miranda, 2013).  Preoccupied adults, because of fear of losing their partners, are more likely to engage in “sexting” in an attempt to keep their partners interested (Weisskirch & Delevi, 2011).  
Dismissing adults distance themselves in romantic relationships and although they generally express less emotions than do others (Fortuna, Roisman, Haydon, Groh, & Holland, 2011), dismissing adults are more likely to express disgust and contempt.  Dismissing adults fear rejection and so are not particularly interested in their partner’s thoughts.  When stressed, dismissing adults are less likely than others to seek support from their partner (Holmberg, Lomore, Takacs, & Price, 2011).

Women’s childhood home situation and their later adult attachment interact to partly predict women’s romantic\sexual self-concept and behaviors (Herzog & Hill-Chapman, 2013).  Specifically, for women who come from families with a variety of adversities (e.g., family instability, abuse, crime, etc.) their adult attachment type predicts their romantic\sexual self-concept and behavior: (a) those with a secure adult attachment are moderately likely to prefer exclusive romantic relationships.  (b) Those with a preoccupied adult attachment are moderately likely to have a sexual and emotionally invested romantic attitude and are slightly more likely to have casual relationships that are longer term.  Perhaps not surprising, women who combine coming from families with a variety of adversities and having a mainly sexual romantic attitude are moderately more likely to have a higher number of casual relationships.  In contrast, for men, childhood home situation did not interact with adult attachment to predict romantic\sexual self-concepts and behaviors (Herzog & Hill-Chapman, 2013). 

It should be noted that the effects of attachment type may differ for older adults.  Adults aged 50-70 are more likely to be happier, and older adult women are much more likely (80%) to have a dismissive attachment type, than are younger adults (Consedine, Fiori, & Magai, 2012).  Older preoccupied women feel and express more anxiety and anger (Consedine et al., 2012).

Findings from the dimensional app​roach to adult attachment

Currently, researchers tend to conceptualize adult attachment as consisting of two continuous dimensions: (a) avoidance of intimacy, and (b) anxiety about abandonment.  Being low on both dimensions suggests a secure attachment.

In their dating relationships, securely attached individuals are more likely to feel satisfied, be in love, and feel committed.  Securely attached individuals are more likely to trust the person they are dating.  Securely attached individuals communicate more effectively with their partner and use constructive, positive strategies in dealing with a conflict with their partner.  They tend to do better at emotional regulation (Morel & Papouchis, 2015), are more likely to cope directly with the event, to access social support, and so are less disturbed by stressful events.

Insecurely attached individuals, whether high in avoidance of intimacy or anxiety about abandonment, have more conflicts and problems in dealing with their partner.  Insecurely attached individuals are more likely to feel negative emotions in their romantic relationships.  They are less likely to use effective emotion regulation strategies (Marganska et al., 2013) and are more likely (r = .48) to use emotion focused copying strategies (Pascuzza et al., 2013) such as rumination (r = .33)(Lanciano et al., 2012), wishful thinking, or self-blame, when stressed.Consistent with this general finding, insecurely attached women are less aware (r = -.27 to -.33) than other women of how to manage their own emotions (Lanciano, Curci, Kafetsios, Elia, & Zammuner, 2012).  Adults who are high in anxiety about abandonment or avoidance are slightly more (r = .12 - .16) likely to engage in antisocial behaviour (Oshri et al., 2015).Insecurely attached individuals who are specifically high on the dimension of avoidance are uncomfortable with intimacy Marganska et al., 2013) and prefer their own independence.  They are less likely to communicate with their partner.  Avoidant individuals may be less able than others to activate or enhance their experience of positive emotions and they have a slight tendency to fail to perceive positive facial expressions (Kafetsios, Andriopoulos, & Papachiou, 2014).

Insecurely attached individuals who are specifically high in anxiety about abandonment are more likely to cling in a romantic relationship.  There is a moderate correlation (r = .36) between adult attachment anxiety and neuroticism (Fraley, Heffernan, Brumbaugh, & Vicary, 2011).  Their anxiety makes them more likely to see threats and danger where none exit.  They are moderately more likely to have problems with emotional regulation (Oshri, Sutton, Clay-Warner, & Miller, 2015), having problems containing their negative emotions.  Those high on attachment anxiety experience greater sympathetic nervous system arousal to mild stress (Monti & Rudolph, 2014) and ruminate over their stressors.  Their anxiety may end up creating tension and conflicts with their partner.     

Those women with insecure adult attachment are at higher risk of depression (Monti & Rudolph, 2014).  Being high on attachment anxiety is directly related (r = .48) to later risk of depression (Monti & Rudolph, 2014).  Those who are high on attachment avoidance do not understand their own emotions well nor do they express their own emotions well, with these difficulties being linked to later depression (Monti & Rudolph, 2014).   

Shared emotions with romantic others, family, and friends

One of the ways that close others impact our emotions is by heightening and reliving the positive experiences that occur in our lives.  This is called "capitalization", and is one of the emotional benefits that many of us get from our romantic relationships, as well as from family and friends (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004).  By sharing good news with someone, particularly when that person actively responds in a way that shows happiness and excitement for us, we get to relive the positive memory and have a stronger emotional experience than would otherwise be the case (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004).  In fact, the people sharing the good news both tend to experience more positive and fewer negative emotions (Monfort et al., 2014).

Our friends and partners are not just there for us during the good times (hopefully!).  When we experience a negative emotional event, we often seek comfort from those we care about.  This social support can help us during periods in our lives when we experience negative emotions and events.  By having responsive partners who exhibit empathy, we feel validated, understood, and grow closer to the other person (Reis & Shaver, 1988).

Empathy with close others results from including cognitive representations of close others into the cognitive representation of the self.  The overlap that we have with people we care about means that when they experience their own triumphs and troubles, we respond as though we experience the same thing, leading us to share the same emotional state with them.  Research (Meyer et al., 2013) using fMRI has shown that seeing a friend who has been socially excluded activates the same areas involved in our own personal experiences of exclusion (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and insula).  In a very real sense, we directly experience the pains and joys of the people we care about.  This may be one of the reasons why both dating partners and roommates begin to have more similar responses to emotional events during their time together (Anderson, Keltner, & Oliver, 2003).

Although the closeness that we experience with others is often built on relationships that have grown over long periods of time, shared emotions can also happen with people we have only recently met.  Just finding out that we have some common interests (e.g., favourite TV show or music) is enough for us to begin experiencing a shared emotional reaction with a former stranger (Cohen, Cwir, & Spencer, 2012; Cwir, Carr, Walton, & Spencer, 2011).