Affect labeling

Implicit emotional regulation strategy / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Affect labeling is an implicit emotional regulation strategy that can be simply described as "putting feelings into words". Specifically, it refers to the idea that explicitly labeling one's, typically negative, emotional state results in a reduction of the conscious experience, physiological response, and/or behavior resulting from that emotional state.[1] For example, writing about a negative experience in one's journal may improve one's mood.[2] Some other examples of affect labeling include discussing one's feelings with a therapist, complaining to friends about a negative experience, posting one's feelings on social media[3] or acknowledging the scary aspects of a situation.

Affect labeling is an extension of the simple concept that talking about one's feelings can make oneself feel better. Although this idea has been used in talk therapy for over a century, formal research into affect labeling has only begun in recent years.[4] Already, researchers have quantified some of the emotion-regulatory effects of affect labeling, such as decreases in subjective emotional affect, reduced activity in the amygdala, and a lower skin conductance response to frightening stimuli.[1] As a consequence of being a relatively new technique in the area of emotion regulation, affect labeling tends to be compared to, and is often confused with, emotional reappraisal, another emotion-regulatory technique. A key difference between the two is that while reappraisal intuitively feels like a strategy to control one's emotions, affect labeling often does not. Even when someone does not intend to regulate their emotions, the act of labeling one's emotions still has positive effects.[5]

Affect labeling is still in the early stages of research and thus, there is much about it that remains unknown. While there are several theories for the mechanism by which affect labeling acts, more research is needed to provide empirical support for these hypotheses.[1] Additionally, some work has been done on the applications of affect labeling to real-world issues, such as research that suggests affect labeling may be commonplace on social media sites.[3] Affect labeling also sees some use in clinical settings as a tentative treatment for fear and anxiety disorders.[6] Nonetheless, research on affect labeling has largely focused on laboratory studies, and further research is needed to understand its effects in the real world.[1]