Schunk, Fabian

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Emotion Regulation in Cultural Contexts : Implications for Social Adaptation and Subjective Well-Being

2022, Schunk, Fabian

Decades of research underscore the importance of emotion regulation for social adaptation, subjective well-being, and mental health. However, the psychological consequences of emotion regulation may vary across cultures due to different social norms and values for the experience and expression of emotions. In the present dissertation, I describe four studies that examine how emotion regulation is related to indices of social adaptation and subjective well-being among individuals from diverse cultural contexts (i.e., Germany, Hong Kong, and Japan).
Study 1 focused on cultural differences in the associations of distinct emotion regulation strategies (i.e., rumination, reappraisal, and suppression) with perceived social support and life satisfaction among university students from Germany (N = 148), Hong Kong (N = 125), and Japan (N = 127). Suppression was related to lower life satisfaction and less social support among Germans, but not among Hong Kong Chinese and Japanese. Notably, the negative relationship between suppression and life satisfaction in the German sample was completely mediated by social support. Further, for Germans and Hong Kong Chinese, social support partially mediated a positive relationship between reappraisal and life satisfaction, and a negative relationship between rumination and life satisfaction.
Study 2 expanded the first study by assessing further emotion regulation strategies that distinguished between the regulation of positive and negative emotions. Associations of emotion regulation with mental health (i.e., higher subjective well-being, less depressive symptoms) were examined among 524 Japanese and 476 German-speaking (Austrians and Germans, in the following “Germans”) university students. Across cultures, distraction from negative emotions, savoring positive emotions, and reappraisal were related to better mental health, whereas distraction from positive emotions and ruminating on negative experiences were related to worse mental health. The link between rumination and lower well-being was significantly weaker among Japanese as compared to Germans. Expressive suppression was related to lower mental health only among Germans. Contrary to the German pattern, suppressing negative emotions out of empathic concern was associated with better mental health among Japanese via higher endorsement of an interdependent self-construal.
Study 3 took a closer look on two core facets of an interdependent self-construal, harmony seeking and rejection avoidance, and their role in shaping emotion regulation, perceived social support by friends, and life satisfaction across cultures. Participants were university students from Germany (N = 129), Hong Kong (N = 136), and Japan (N = 123). Across cultures, harmony seeking was positively, while rejection avoidance was negatively related to indices of psychological functioning (life satisfaction and/or social support). For Germans, rejection avoidance was related to dysfunctional emotion regulation (more rumination, less reappraisal, more suppression). These emotion regulation strategies completely mediated the negative link between rejection avoidance and life satisfaction among Germans. In contrast, rejection avoidance was only weakly related to emotional dysregulation among Hong Kong Chinese and Japanese.
Finally, Study 4 examined the longitudinal effects of emotion regulation ability (i.e., low neuroticism) on life satisfaction and aspects of social adaptation in a nationally representative adult sample from Germany (N = 11,079). Cross-lagged panel models indicated that higher neuroticism predicted declined life satisfaction, increased loneliness, decreased number of close friends, and reduced interpersonal trust after 4–5 years, but not vice versa. Half-longitudinal mediation models further revealed that each indicator of social adaptation partially mediated the longitudinal effect of neuroticism on life satisfaction. Exploratory multigroup analyses supported the generalization of the detrimental effects of neuroticism on social adaptation and life satisfaction across age, gender, and geographical regions (East versus West Germany).
In sum, the present dissertation contributes to a better understanding of the sociocultural conditions and consequences of emotion regulation by examining associations of emotion regulation with social adaptation and subjective well-being among individuals from diverse cultural contexts. In terms of underlying mechanisms, cultural differences might be explained by individuals’ self-construals or specific facets of an interdependent self, such as harmony seeking and rejection avoidance. Yet, further research is needed to test whether the examined variables causally affect each other. The findings within this dissertation emphasize the role of culture in shaping emotional processes and may inform future research as well as practical interventions (e.g., culture-sensitive psychotherapy).