Implicit, effortless, and nonconscious regulation

Dual-process models of information processing, discussed in the previous chapter, provide a possible answer to this question. These models emphasise that even complex cognitive processes may become implicit, automatic, and effortless through their recurrent employment. With the exception of those emotion regulation strategies such as thumb sucking or gaze turning that are present already at birth, all other forms of regulation are learned from their repeated use in the individual rather than the ancestral past. Therefore, Bargh and Williams (2007, p. 436) suggest that emotion regulation strategies "should be capable of nonconscious activation and operation to the extent the individual has employed them routinely, in a frequent and consistent manner, whenever he or she is in the given situation". The cognitive regulation strategies of attentional deployment and reappraisal are similar to more behavioural strategies, such as situation selection, in this respect. All regulatory strategies are capable of becoming automatic and nonconscious through their repeated and consistent use in similar emotional situations. Therefore, insofar as emotions are regulated by ideational factors such as feeling and display rules, emotion scripts, and ethnotheories about emotions, or more by general societal values, norms, rules, scripts, schemas, and mental models that have been internalized over the course of socialisation, cognitive representations of these factors are capable of influencing both emotion generation and regulation effortlessly and nonconsciously.

Nevertheless, the argument from acquired automaticity may not establish the cognitive character of all instances of intrinsic emotion regulation if Parkinson, Fischer, and Manstead (2005) are right. They point out that "long before any of us is able to decode the meanings of cultural messages explicitly, we accumulate a vast store of practical expertise in the local workings of emotion at an implicit level" (ibid., p. 226). Values, rules, and other cultural representations with emotional implications are not acquired "as a result of deliberate inculcation, but simply as a function of participation in everyday social practices" (ibid.). Moreover, representations embodied in social practices and cultural artifacts continue to exert direct and implicit influence on our emotional experiences and behaviour even after we have internalized those prescriptive and descriptive representations that explicitly influence our emotions. Thus, participation in social practices and interaction with others have real-time effects on emotional appraisal and regulation that often operate in a socially distributed manner. Guilt, for instance, can be elicited by another person's blame rather than by an appraisal of one's own blameworthiness, although some kind of minimal endorsement of communal norms is probably necessary for understanding blame as blame. Yet the function of guilt is to maintain a relationship with the blaming subject, whose response to an appropriate display of guilt is capable of directly influencing the blamed person's regulation of his guilt, without a prior appraisal of the situation's changed personal meaning, as appraisal theorists would suggest. In this way, implicit emotion generation and regulation respond to the changing dynamics of social forces and interpersonal relations, whose aligning and realigning human emotions serve in the first place.

Together, Parkinson, Fischer, and Manstead's arguments purport to establish that emotion regulation does not require internal mental representations because it is capable of functioning directly through participation in social practices and interpersonal encounters that have their own constitutive rules that we learn in socialization into those practices and forms of interaction. At the same time, the emphasis on the inherent relationally of emotions offers an additional argument for the noncontingent regulation of human emotions. If emotions are more or less strategic moves that adjust social interaction as the late Robert Solomon (1980) suggested, their smooth and efficient regulation in relation to other people's reactions is vital to their successful functioning. Indeed, social feedback from significant others is perhaps even more important than internal feedback from the various response dimensions in influencing emotion regulation. The observation that both emotion generation and emotion regulation typically take place in a developing dialogue with other people rather than in isolated individual processing is an important amendment to other process models - both appraisal theories and psychological constructionism - that focus too much on intraindividual processes. Most importantly, the dialogical character of implicit emotion regulation need not be in conflict with a cognitive claim about this kind of regulation, contrary to Parkinson, Fischer, and Manstead's own interpretation.

Parkinson, Fischer, and Manstead think that cognitive regulation requires representations of meaning that influence emotion regulation explicitly in the form of internalized rules, norms, scripts, and schemas. However, if we understand cognition in terms of recognition of meaning and appropriate responsiveness to it, adjusting one's emotion on the basis of other people's responses qualifies as cognitive regulation because it depends on understanding the meaning of others' responses as praise or blame, for instance. Others' blame conveys incompatibility of one's action with social norms directly, without recourse to an appraisal about the blame-worthiness of one's action. Yet identifying others' verbal or nonverbal response as blame for one's particular course of action and responding to it by guilt is still a cognitive mental operation as it involves an interpretation of others' response in relation to one's own action as authoritative within the context of established social interaction. Parkinson, Fischer and Manstead characterize interpretations of this kind in passing as "habitual appraisals" (ibid., p. 227) without elaborating to what extent these appraisals resemble or differ from the more sophisticated appraisals of appraisal theories. My suggestion is that "habitual appraisals" or something alike are appraisals that register meanings directly in habitualised social interaction, thereby serving implicit and effortless yet cognitive emotion generation and regulation. Internal representations that guide explicit emotion generation and regulation are acquired from participation in social interaction, but adequate responsiveness to embodied representations in social practices qualifies as cognitive activity as well because it is mediated by the processing of meaning.

 
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