Gender differences in the regulation of sadness, anger, and fear, and their relationship with variables associated with mental health, were examined in the present research. Emotion regulation (ER) refers to the different ways that we manage our emotions, and ER has an important impact on many areas of life, including mental health. The majority of research in the field of ER has focused on general affective states, such as negative emotion, stress, or mood. Consequently, it is unclear if ER, and gender differences in ER, differs according to the specific emotion being regulated, such as sadness, anger, or fear.
It is important to investigate gender differences in ER in an emotion-specific manner because there is evidence that males and females are socialised to respond to their emotions in different ways, which may impact how they regulate their emotions. Also, there are prominent gender differences in some variables that are associated with mental health. However, the relationship between gender, ER, and mental health has not been examined in an emotion-specific manner so far. This is problematic, because there is evidence that the relationship between ER and mental health may depend on the specific emotion being regulated.
The aims of the present research were (1) to examine if there are gender differences in the regulation of three specific emotions – sadness, anger, and fear, and (2) to investigate if gender differences in the regulation of sadness, anger, and fear are related to gender differences in variables associated with mental health.
These aims were achieved by conducting two empirical studies. In Study 1, participants completed open-ended questionnaires which asked about the regulation of specific emotions. The responses from these questionnaires were coded into ER strategies to examine the relationship between gender and the use of these strategies to regulate specific emotions. In Study 2, participants completed an Emotion Regulation Task (ERT) which involved looking at emotional pictures and using ER strategies to regulate the specific emotions that arose. Participants also completed self-report questionnaires measuring variables associated with mental health.
Gender differences in ER were found, but these often depended on the specific emotion being regulated and the ER strategy being used. Also, ER partly explained some of the gender differences in variables associated with mental health, but again, this depended on the specific emotion being regulated, and the ER strategy.
These findings have important implications for theory, because they highlight the lack of a theoretical framework for understanding the regulation of specific emotions. However, it is proposed that existing models can be easily altered to accommodate this emotion-specific paradigm. These findings also have important implications for therapeutic practice, because they show that the emotional context and gender of the individual may impact the use and effectiveness of ER strategies. This may guide tailoring therapeutic interventions such as ER training to the specific emotional context, which may help to increase treatment success.
Overall, the findings of this research highlight the importance of investigating ER in an emotion-specific manner. The key message from this research is that what is known about the regulation of one emotion cannot necessarily be applied to all emotions or negative emotion in general. Therefore, it may be helpful to examine ER in an emotion-specific manner moving forward.