Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Evan Zahniser

Training Track: Clinical
Lab: PIER Lab  
Advisor: Patricia Rupert, Ph.D. 
Office: Coffey Hall 344


Emotional adjustment and neuropsychological functioning; emotion regulation

Masters Thesis Title

The Moderating Role of Emotion Regulation on Longitudinal Associations Between Stress and Mental Health in College Students

Masters Thesis Abstract

Emotion regulation is consistently linked to subsequent wellbeing, but little research has examined the moderating role of emotion regulation in associations between mental health and other relevant factors.  Patterns of gender differences in emotion regulation also remain somewhat unclear.  The present study targets these gaps by examining two specific emotion regulation strategies in interaction with stress and gender in predicting internalizing symptoms among college students, a population for whom emotion regulation may be particularly important given the high-stress nature of the college transition.  A large sample of students (N = 1,130) provided self-report data at three time points over their first year of college.  Results indicated that cognitive reappraisal functioned as a buffer against the negative effects of stress, whereas expressive suppression did not interact with stress in predicting subsequent symptoms but instead functioned as an independent risk factor for internalizing symptoms.  Finally, assessments of gender differences indicated that men may engage in expressive suppression more often and cognitive reappraisal less often than do women.  These findings underscore the importance of emotion regulation, both by identifying cognitive reappraisal as a protective factor against stress and highlighting the direct negative impacts of expressive suppression.  Results also suggest that men tend to regulate their emotions in less healthy ways than do women, in turn suggesting that men may be a group for whom emotion regulation is an area of particular concern.

Masters Thesis Committee

Colleen Conley, PhD; Grayson Holmbeck, PhD

Dissertation Title

Person-Profiles of Emotion Regulation: Implications for Mental Health and Wellbeing

Dissertation Abstract

(Proposal Version Only) Emotion regulation refers to the range of ways in which people manage their emotional responses, and represents an area of study that has rapidly grown in the field of psychology over the past two decades. The concept of emotion regulation, which grew out of foundational psychological theories such as psychoanalysis and coping, is often understood through models that focus on emotion regulation strategies, which are tools for modifying emotions. Two such strategy-focused models are the process model of emotion regulation and its more recent version, the extended process model, both of which have been influential in the field.
However, as the field of emotion regulation research has grown, a more recent development has been to develop and utilize models that emphasize a broader range of emotion regulation skills—such as emotional awareness, understanding the meaning of emotions, and accepting emotions—that are involved in effective emotion regulation. These models conceptualize the use of strategies to modify emotions as only one of a range of skills that are necessary for effective emotion regulation. Two examples of these broader, more skills-focused models include the difficulties in emotion regulation model and the adaptive coping with emotions (ACE) model, the latter of which provides the conceptual framework for understanding emotion regulation in the present study.
Research has long identified effective emotion regulation as a key aspect of wellbeing, predicting positive outcomes across a range of domains such as emotional adjustment, mental health, and social functioning. At the same time, deficits in emotion regulation are conceptualized as central to many types of psychopathology, and several forms of psychotherapy explicitly target emotion regulation skills in order to improve wellbeing. Empirical research focused specifically on emotion regulation skills have linked these abilities both to subsequent emotional adjustment and psychological functioning. Along similar lines, research has demonstrated that improvements in emotion regulation skills over the course of psychotherapy are closely linked to treatment outcomes, and that adding emotion regulation skills-training to traditional psychotherapy improves mental health outcomes. These findings further highlight the importance of emotion regulation skills for emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Though the study of individual differences in emotion regulation is one area in which the field must continue to grow, two aspects of this topic have received attention in the emotion regulation literature are those of gender differences in emotion regulation and emotion regulation across human development. Research focused on emotion regulation strategies has consistently demonstrated gender differences in typical approaches to emotion regulation, though the impacts of emotion regulation seem to be consistent regardless of gender. Emotion regulation has also been shown to vary across human development, and to perhaps be of particular importance during developmental stages that feature major life transitions. Emerging adulthood, the developmental stage spanning the late teens and early twenties, is one such developmental period in which effective emotion regulation is especially important to study.
Across all of this research, significant strides have been made in illuminating the positive impacts of emotion regulation, with research that identifies ways in which particular emotion regulation skills relate to wellbeing. However, the field of emotion regulation research must continue to grow in its study of the ways in which different aspects of emotion regulation work together to affect outcomes, and in exploring individual differences in configurations of emotion regulation skills that may differ across people. Research using person-centered approaches—which can be used to identify personal configurations of emotion regulation skills and ways in which these may differ across people—is largely lacking. The present study targets this gap in the emotion regulation literature, focusing on emotion regulation among emerging adults approaching the transition out of college, with two goals in mind: (a) to identify groups of people with similar patterns of emotion regulation skills, and (b) to explore the emotional adjustment, mental health, social functioning, future planning, and overall wellbeing outcomes that may differ across these groups.

Dissertation Committee

Patricia Rupert, PhD; Fred Bryant, PhD; Colleen Conley, PhD; Noni Gaylord-Harden, PhD