Instrumental Motives in Negative Emotion Regulation in Daily Life: Frequency, Consistency, and Predictors

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Abstract

People regulate their emotions not only for hedonic reasons but also for instrumental reasons, to attain the potential benefits of emotions beyond pleasure and pain. However, such instrumental motives have rarely been examined outside the laboratory as they naturally unfold in daily life. To assess whether and how instrumental motives operate outside the laboratory, it is necessary to examine them in response to real and personally relevant stimuli in ecologically valid contexts. In this research, we assessed the frequency, consistency, and predictors of instrumental motives in negative emotion regulation in daily life. Participants (N = 114) recalled the most negative event of their day each evening for 7 days and reported their instrumental motives and negative emotion goals in that event. Participants endorsed performance motives in approximately 1 in 3 events and social, eudaimonic, and epistemic motives in approximately 1 in 10 events. Instrumental motives had substantially higher within- than between-person variance, indicating that they were context-dependent. Indeed, although we found few associations between instrumental motives and personality traits, relationships between instrumental motives and contextual variables were more extensive. Performance, social, and epistemic motives were each predicted by a unique pattern of contextual appraisals. Our data demonstrate that instrumental motives play a role in daily negative emotion regulation as people encounter situations that pose unique regulatory demands.

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