When Less is More: Effects of the Availability of Strategic Options on Regulating Negative Emotions

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Research in several domains suggests that having strategic options is not always beneficial. In this paper, we tested whether having strategic options (vs. not) is helpful or harmful for regulating negative emotions. In 5 studies (N = 151) participants were presented with 1 or more strategic options prior to watching aversive images and using the selected strategic option. Across studies, we found that people reported less intense negative emotions when the strategy they used to regulate their emotions was presented as a single option, rather than as 1 of several options. This was regardless of whether people could choose between the options (Studies 3–5) or not (Studies 1, 2, and 4), and specific to negative (but not neutral) images (Study 5). A sixth study addressed an explanation based on demand characteristics, showing that participants expected to feel more positive when having more than 1 option. The findings indicate that having strategic options for regulating negative emotions can sometimes be costly.

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