OUR Research Approach
In the Affective Science & Health Laboratory at the University of Toronto, we study emotions and their ability to make us sick or help us thrive. Our research centers on two inter-related questions.
- First, what do people believe about emotions? For example, which emotions do people believe they should feel and do people believe emotions are controllable? We've examined the structure of these beliefs, the factors that shape them, and their implications for health and well-being.
- Second, how do people regulate their emotions? Specifically, we've examined multiple theoretically-motivated forms of emotion regulation, their effects on health and well-being, the psychological mechanisms underlying these effects, and the socio-cultural factors that modulate them.
To answer these questions, we use a multi-method approach, utilizing controlled experiments and ecologically-valid longitudinal studies that employ a variety of measures:
- self-report (e.g., daily diaries)
- autonomic physiology (e.g., cardiovascular and electrodermal activity)
- nonverbal behavior (e.g., facial expressions)
We also examine how key socio-cultural and psychological factors shape how these questions unfold differently across people:
- age (children, undergraduates, older adults)
- culture (e.g., U.S., Russia, East Asia)
- socioeconomic status (community samples)
- risk for psychological health issues (stress exposure)
- clinical status (major depressive and bipolar disorder)
Using these methods, our research contributes to the basic science behind and the health implications of what people believe about their emotions and how they regulate their emotions.
Does the mental health of caregivers predict the longevity of the patients in their care? Described in a forthcoming issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we found that familial caregivers with worse mental health had patients at increased risk for mortality, underscoring the importance of caring for caregivers as well as patients when attempting to improve patients' lives.
To fully understand the health implications of emotion regulation strategies like reappraisal, they must be considered as multi-component processes. Appearing in a forthcoming issue of Emotion, we found that frequently attempting to use reappraisal in daily life was only associated with psychological health benefits for individuals who were able to implement the strategy successfully.
In the news
In her new book, America the Anxious: How our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Anxious Wrecks, author Ruth Whippman discusses the downsides of pursuing happiness, including empirical research from Brett Ford and collaborator Iris Mauss.