The Structure of Common Emotion Regulation Strategies: A Meta-Analytic Examination

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Abstract

Emotion regulation has been examined extensively with regard to important outcomes, including psychological and physical health. However, the literature includes many different emotion regulation strategies but little examination of how they relate to one another, making it difficult to interpret and synthesize findings. The goal of this meta-analysis was to examine the underlying structure of common emotion regulation strategies (i.e., acceptance, behavioral avoidance, distraction, experiential avoidance, expressive suppression, mindfulness, problem solving, reappraisal, rumination, worry), and to evaluate this structure in light of theoretical models of emotion regulation. We also examined how distress tolerance—an important emotion regulation ability — relates to strategy use. We conducted meta-analyses estimating the correlations between emotion regulation strategies (based on 331 samples and 670 effect sizes), as well as between distress tolerance and strategies. The resulting meta-analytic correlation matrix was submitted to confirmatory and exploratory factor analyses. None of the confirmatory models, based on prior theory, was an acceptable fit to the data. Exploratory factor analysis suggested that 3 underlying factors best characterized these data. Two factors— labeled Disengagement and Aversive Cognitive Perseveration— emerged as strongly correlated but distinct factors, with the latter consisting of putatively maladaptive strategies. The third factor, Adaptive Engagement, was a less unified factor and weakly related to the other 2 factors. Distress tolerance was most closely associated with low levels of repetitive negative thought and experiential avoidance, and high levels of acceptance and mindfulness. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings and applications to emotion regulation assessment.

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