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 emotion regulation trump political action? In a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we describe research conducted in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election suggesting that using effective forms of emotion regulation helps Clinton supporters feel better, but feeling better comes at the cost of engaging less in productive political action.
What are the costs of believing emotions are uncontrollable? In a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, we show that youths who believe that emotions are relatively uncontrollable are less likely to gain skill in effective forms of emotion regulation and, in turn, are more likely experience symptoms of poor mental health.
Does the mental health of caregivers predict the longevity of the patients in their care? Described in 2017 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.
Principal Investigator of the Affective Science & Health Lab, Brett Ford, has been named a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science.
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.