[ from Neuroscience News ]
Summary: People have more control over how their emotions are influenced by others than previously thought. Researchers found people who wanted to stay calm when presented with upsetting stimuli remained unfazed by angry emotions expressed by others. However, when they wanted to feel angry, they were more highly influenced by others who were angry.
In a new study, Stanford psychologists examined why some people respond differently to an upsetting situation and learned that people’s motivations play an important role in how they react.
Their study found that when a person wanted to stay calm, they remained relatively unfazed by angry people, but if they wanted to feel angry, then they were highly influenced by angry people. The researchers also discovered that people who wanted to feel angry also got more emotional when they learned that other people were just as upset as they were, according to the results from a series of laboratory experiments the researchers conducted.
Their findings, published June 13 in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, reveal that people have more control over how their emotions get influenced than previously realized, the researchers said.
“We have long known that people often try to regulate their emotions when they believe that they are unhelpful,” said James Gross, a professor of psychology at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. “This set of studies extends this insight by showing that people can also regulate the way they are influenced by others’ emotions.”
Researchers have largely assumed that people’s emotions get influenced automatically – in an unconscious, immediate response to other people’s emotions, said Goldenberg. His team’s new research challenges that perspective, he said.
“Our emotions are not passive nor automatic,” Goldenberg said. “They are a little bit of a tool. We have the ability to use our emotions to achieve certain goals. We express certain emotions to convince other people to join our collective cause. On social media, we use emotions to signal to other people that we care about the issues of a group to make sure people know we’re a part of it.”
Further research needs to be done in order to understand the relationship between people and their emotions. One of the next topics Goldenberg says he wants to examine further is whether the desire of people to want to see and experience certain emotions around them lies at the core of how they choose their network of friends and other people around them.
“It seems that the best way to regulate your emotions is to start with the selection of your environment,” Goldenberg said. “If you don’t want to be angry today, one way to do that is to avoid angry people. Do some people have an ingrained preference for stronger emotions than others? That’s one of my next questions.”