Keep Calm and Carry On? The Costs and Benefits of Emotional Suppression on Personal and Social Goals

Low, R. S. T. (University of Auckland), Overall, N. C. (University of Auckland), Hammond, M. D. (Victoria University of Wellington), Girme, Y. U. (Simon Fraser University), Henderson, A. M. E. (University of Auckland)

Emotional suppression interferes with the cognitive resources and social support needed to achieve personal goals. Yet, emotional suppression may be necessary to control negative emotions that can interfere with social goals. Three studies tested these potentially opposing effects of emotional suppression. Studies 1 and 2 examined whether emotional suppression hindered personal goal achievement. Participants reported their suppression and goal progress every two weeks across a semester (Study 1, N = 146) or reported their suppression while discussing a personal goal with their partner and then reported their goal progress 1-month later (Study 2, N = 202). Emotional suppression was associated with lower competence, increased depressed mood, and in turn lower goal achievement across time. In contrast to these personal goal costs, Study 3 examined whether emotional suppression may be beneficial for social goals, such as when people need to overcome negative feelings to co-operate with others. In Study 3 (N = 100), 5-year-old children were observed during a competitive frustrating task and then asked to co-operate with their interaction partner. Children who were able to suppress their frustration subsequently displayed less antagonistic behaviour in the cooperative task. These novel findings indicated that emotional suppression can have differential costs and benefits for personal versus social goals.


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