Emotion Regulation

Emotion dynamics refer to a range of processes associated with the experience of emotion such as sensitivity, the magnitude of emotional responses, and the time it takes for emotional intensity to decrease (e.g., Davidson, 1998). Emotion regulation refers to any attempt, whether implicit or unconscious, to alter emotion dynamics in some way (Gross & Thompson, 2007). This might mean regulating emotions in an automatic way, such as taking deeper breaths when one becomes angry. However, emotion regulation can also be effortful, such as taking anti-anxiety medication during periods of intense anxiety, going for a walk when highly distressed, or phoning a friend to talk through a difficult situation. All of these examples involve an effort to alter emotional responding in some way (typically to decrease the intensity negative emotional states such as sadness, anxiety, or anger).

There is a rich and abundant literature on emotion regulation as studied in populations without psychological disorders (e.g., see Gross 2013, for a review). More recently, the study of emotion regulation has been applied to BPD. This shift has followed in part from theories proposing that BPD involves deficits in emotion regulation (e.g., Linehan, 1993), and from increasing evidence that therapies for BPD that involve emotion regulation skills training are effective (namely Dialectical Behavior Therapy).

Consequently, in the BEP lab we study emotion regulation as it relates to BPD in two main ways. First, we aim to examine the nature of emotion regulation deficits in BPD. That is, do individuals with BPD have emotion regulation deficits or not? How do these deficits manifest? Are emotion regulation strategies effective for this group or is it a matter of choosing effective emotion regulation strategies? Second, we aim to examine which emotion regulation strategies might be the most helpful for individuals with BPD when they are in periods of emotional distress. Following this pursuit, we ask questions such as what kinds of strategies are the most useful to individuals with BPD to decrease their emotional distress? Are certain strategies better for specific emotions? How can we use emotion regulation skills to improve the quality of life of individuals living with BPD?