The Role of Ideal Affect in Emotion Regulation: A Comparison between European Americans and Hong Kong Chinese


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date3 Sep 2019


In recent years, there is a growing interest in exploring the ways that people regulate their emotions and its corresponding consequences (Gross, 2015). However, relatively few attempts have been made to investigate the factors that influence the use of emotion regulation strategies. Two studies were conducted in this project to investigate whether emotion regulation can be determined by one’s ideal affect (i.e., the desired emotional state). In addition, past research demonstrated that personal values, including openness to change, self-enhancement, and conservation, could account for variations in ideal positive affective states (Tsai, 2006) and emotion regulation (Matsumoto, 2006) between Americans and Chinese. Therefore, Study 1 explores the serial mediation effects of personal values and ideal affect on explaining cultural differences in three emotion regulation strategies—avoidant thinking, cognitive reappraisal, and expressive suppression. Using an experimental design, Study 2 aims to test the impact of ideal affect on emotion regulation strategies.

Study 1 was conducted with 150 European American and 150 Hong Kong Chinese students (Mage = 20.17; SD = 2.61; 51.4% female). They completed an online survey to measure their ideal affect, personal values, and emotion regulation strategies. Results of Study 1 reveal that self-enhancement and ideal low arousal positive states (ideal LAP) accounted for the variations noted between American and Chinese students in the use of the cognitive reappraisal strategy. Additionally, the value of conservation explained the variations in the use of expressive suppression, regardless of the participants’ cultural background.

Study 2 recruited 53 European American and 49 Hong Kong Chinese students (Mage = 20.69, SD = 2.41; 52.5% female). They were randomly assigned to either a ‘meeting’ or ‘party’ condition to manipulate their ideal affect. The meeting condition was designed to induce ideal LAP in the participants by asking them to prepare an invitation letter for a tranquil meeting with calmness. The party condition was used to induce ideal high arousal positive states (ideal HAP) by asking participants to prepare an invitation letter for an exciting party with enthusiasm. In the middle of writing the letter, a construction noise was played to arouse a highly negative emotional state in the participants. Strategies used by the participants to regulate these negative emotions were assessed in a short questionnaire. In this study, both American and Hong Kong Chinese participants in the party condition used cognitive reappraisal more often than those in the meeting condition.

This current research links ideal affect and emotion regulation for the first time, demonstrating that one’s selection of emotion regulation strategies is partly determined by how he/she wants to feel. The findings can practically contribute to the fields of counseling and health psychology by helping practitioners to better understand how their clients’ habitual emotion regulation may be tied to their desired emotional states. Recognition that ideal affect plays this causal role will help practitioners, such as counselors or clinical psychologists, to design intervention programs to shape the use of more adaptive emotion regulation strategies for their clients.

    Research areas

  • ideal affect, personal values, emotion regulation strategies