Problems with Switching: Investigating the Sequence of Emotion Regulation Strategy Choices in the Daily Lives of Socially Anxious People

Author: ORCID icon
Daniel, Katharine, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Teachman, Bethany, AS-Psychology (PSYC), University of Virginia

Despite theoretical emphasis on problems with switching between emotion regulation strategies as one proposed pathway to emotion dysregulation (Aldao et al., 2015; Bonanno & Burton, 2013; Gross, 2015; Southward et al., 2018; Webb et al., 2012), relatively few studies have empirically examined the sequence in which emotion regulation strategy choices are made from one moment to the next. This is in part due to limits of existing analytic techniques. Study 1 presents a novel analytic tool that we developed to quantify how people switch between using many different emotion regulation strategies over time. This method offers two metrics, which we call stability and spread. Stability measures the extent to which a system switches from endorsing one binary variable (e.g., selection of a given emotion regulation strategy) to endorsing a different binary variable (e.g., selection of a different emotion regulation strategy) versus repeating the original variable’s endorsement. Spread measures how many unique switches between binary variables are observed relative to how many different types of switches were possible. Study 2 tests the robustness of this analytic approach to time interval misspecification to support its use on data sampled at random times throughout a person’s daily life. Given Study 2 found that both stability and spread have good coverage and are unbiased when applied to data collected with between-person random sampling, Study 3 then used the stability metric to quantify how N = 109 socially anxious people switched between 19 different emotion regulation strategies (or chose not to regulate at all) throughout a 5-week daily life study. Specifically, we tested whether state and trait anxiety reports predicted differences in ER strategy switching patterns, as measured by stability, and found that ER switching was highest when average state anxiety was more intense and more variable. These relationships were moderated by trait social anxiety severity such that higher symptoms of trait social anxiety strengthened the observed association between higher average state anxiety and greater ER switching whereas they weakened the observed association between greater state anxiety variability and greater ER switching. The association between ER switching and rate of change in state anxiety was neither significant nor moderated by trait social anxiety. One plausible interpretation of the findings is that people with relatively higher social anxiety symptoms may flail between ER strategies during periods of high state anxiety and fail to use changes in state anxiety to guide strategic ER switching decisions. Interventions focused on helping socially anxious people learn how different ER strategies are connected to variations in their state anxiety (without being overly reactive) might hold promise to increase their adaptive ER switching decisions.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Emotion Regulation, Social Anxiety, Switches, Stability, Ecological Momentary Assessment
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