Individual Differences in Emotion and Emotion Regulation


Broadly speaking, my work here concerns how people differ in the ways they experience, express, and regulate their emotions and how these emotion processes affect their lives, including consequences for affect (e.g., feeling good vs. bad), for relationships and social bonds (e.g., closeness to others, relationship satisfaction), and for adjustment and psychological functioning (e.g., depression, well-being).


(a) Emotion expressive behavior


In a series of earlier papers with James Gross, we initially focused on emotion-expressive behavior. We showed that individuals differ widely in their expressive behavior and that the general domain of expressivity can be represented as a hierarchical model. We also demonstrated the importance of these individual differences (see BEQ) and the structural differences among them for the individual's functioning. For example, we found that although expressivity of positive emotions and expressivity of negative emotions are positively related (i.e., individuals who express more positive emotions were also more likely to express more negative emotions), these two components of expressivity nonetheless had opposite consequences for individuals' social lives: positive expressivity was linked to being better liked by others, whereas negative expressivity was linked to being less well-liked.


Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (1995).  Facets of emotional expressivity: Three self-report factors and their correlates.  Personality and Individual Differences, 19, 555-568.

Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (1997).  Revealing feelings: Facets of emotional expressivity in self-reports, peer ratings, and behavior.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 435-448.

Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (1998).  Mapping the domain of expressivity: Multi-method evidence for a hierarchical model.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 170-191.


(b) Emotion Regulation


Individuals differ in their use of emotion regulation strategies such as reappraisal and suppression, and these individual differences have implications for affect, well-being, and social relationships. Are some forms of emotion regulation healthier than others? We have focused on two commonly used emotion regulation strategies: reappraisal (changing the way one thinks about a potentially emotion-eliciting event) and suppression (changing the way one responds behaviorally to an emotion- eliciting event). Experimental findings demonstrate that reappraisal has a healthier profile of short-term affective, cognitive, and social consequences than suppression. Studies using individual-differences measures find that using reappraisal to regulate emotions is associated with healthier patterns of affect, social functioning, and well-being than is using suppression.


James Gross and I developed a measure of the habitual use of reappraisal and suppression, the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ). Using the ERQ, we demonstrated that reappraisers experience and express greater positive emotion and lesser negative emotion, whereas suppressors experience and express lesser positive emotion, yet experience greater negative emotion. Furthermore, using reappraisal as a regulation strategy is associated with better interpersonal functioning and positive well-being, whereas using suppression is associated with worse interpersonal functioning and negative well-being.


Developmentally, we have shown that emotion regulation undergoes important changes even after early adulthood.  We have found evidence for a normative shift toward an increasingly healthy emotion regulation profile during adulthood: individuals showed an increase in the use of reappraisal and a decrease in the use of suppression from early adult (the 20s) to late middle adulthood (the 60s). 


We have further examined the extent to which emotions and their regulation have direct effects on social relationships in everyday life (Anderson, John, Keltner, & Kring, 2001). We tested the emotional convergence hypothesis; that is, the idea that people in relationships become more emotionally similar over time because this similarity helps coordinate the thoughts and behaviors of the relationship partners, increases their mutual understanding, and fosters their social cohesion. Using laboratory procedures to induce and assess emotional response, we found that dating partners and college roommates became more similar in their emotional responses over the course of a year. Further, relationship partners with less power made more of the change necessary for convergence to occur. Consistent with the proposed benefits of emotional similarity, relationships whose partners had become more emotionally similar were more cohesive and less likely to dissolve. These findings demonstrate that emotional processes and their coordination across interaction partners are of central importance to relationship formation, functioning, and long-term outcomes.


Anderson, C., John, O. P., Keltner, D., & Kring, A. (2001). Who attains social status? Effects of personality and physical attractiveness in social groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 116-132.

Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2002). Wise emotion regulation. In L. Feldman Barett, & P. Salovey (Eds.), The wisdom of feelings: Psychological processes in emotional intelligence (pp. 297-318). New York: Guilford.

Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348-362.

Gross, J. J., John, O. P., & Richards, J. M. (2000). The dissociation of emotion expression from emotion experience: A personality perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 712-726.

Gross, J. J., Richards, J. M., & John, O. P. (2006). Emotion regulation in everyday life.  In D. K. Snyder, J. Simpson, & J. N. Hughes (Eds.), Emotion regulation in couples and families: Pathways to dysfunction and health (pp. 13-35).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2004). Healthy and unhealthy emotion regulation:  Personality processes, individual differences, and life span development.  Journal of Personality, 72, 1301-1333.

John, O.P., & Gross, J.J. (2007). Individual differences in emotion regulation strategies: Links to global trait, dynamic, and social cognitive constructs. In J.J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 351-372). New York: Guilford Press.

Tamir, M., John, O.P., Srivastava, S., & Gross, J.J. (2007). Implicit theories of emotion: Affective and social outcomes across a major life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 731-744.