Emotion regulation has been conceptualized as a process by which individuals modify their emotional experiences, expressions, and physiology and the situations eliciting such emotions in order to produce appropriate responses to the ever-changing demands posed by the environment. Thus, context plays a central role in emotion regulation. This is particularly relevant to the work on emotion regulation in psychopathology, because psychological disorders are characterized by rigid responses to the environment. However, this recognition of the importance of context has appeared primarily in the theoretical realm, with the empirical work lagging behind. In this review, the author proposes an approach to systematically evaluate the contextual factors shaping emotion regulation. Such an approach consists of specifying the components that characterize emotion regulation and then systematically evaluating deviations within each of these components and their underlying dimensions. Initial guidelines for how to combine such dimensions and components in order to capture substantial and meaningful contextual influences are presented. This approach is offered to inspire theoretical and empirical work that it is hoped will result in the development of a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the relationship between context and emotion regulation.
In this review, I proposed an approach to the systematic study of contextual factors in emotion regulation. Such an approach consists of specifying the components that characterize emotion regulation (i.e., the organism carrying out the regulation; the emotion-eliciting stimuli; the selection and implementation of strategies; and the types of outcomes considered) and then systematically evaluating deviations in the dimensions underlying these components. In this way, context is operationalized in relative terms. I provided initial guidelines for how to combine such dimensions in order to capture substantial and meaningful contextual variability. It is my hope that this approach will inspire theoretical and empirical work that will contribute to the development of a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between context and emotion regulation. As the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume said, “the passion, in pronouncing its verdict, considers not the object simply, as it is in itself, but surveys it with all the circumstances, which attend it” (Hume, 2004, p. 224). The time has come for emotion regulation researchers to systematically survey those circumstances and develop a more sophisticated understanding of this fascinating process by which heart and mind are constantly seeking to influence each other.