ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (7): 781-794.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00781

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The implicit advantage of a high kindness trait in the action control of emotion regulation

SUN Juncai1(),XUN Fengjiao1,LIU Ping2,ZHANG Wenhai3   

  1. 1 School of Education, Qufu Normal University, Qufu 273165, China
    2 Department of Psychology, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China
    3 Yancheng Institute of Technology, Yancheng 224001, China
  • Received:2018-05-09 Published:2019-07-25 Online:2019-05-22
  • Contact: Juncai SUN


Kindness is a desirable trait to possess, and it is therefore commendable to investigate its link with self-regulation and, in particular, emotion regulation. Implicit processes in general are much more consistent and reliable, as they are triggered automatically and run to completion without conscious effort or monitoring. Therefore, the effect of implicit emotion regulation on psychological health is more important than that of explicit cognitive behavior and ability. Based on an action control perspective, which suggests that the regulatory process for emotions usually includes three sub-tasks, in this study, a set of implicit tasks were designed to investigate the influence of the kindness trait on implicit emotion regulation among undergraduate students with different levels of kindness.
The Chinese Personality Scale was used to assess level of kindness. This study surveyed 399 college students, ultimately selecting 60 participants (30 with high scores and 30 with low scores). The results showed that the high-kindness group had significantly higher scores (M = 90.57, SD = 6.17) than did the low-kindness group (M = 52.28, SD = 3.83), t (58) = 28.70, p < 0.001). A subset of participants was selected based on their kindness scores. They then completed three experimental tasks. First, an emotional Stroop task was conducted to compare the interference effect in color identification caused by emotional valence between the two groups. In this task, the experiment materials were positive and negative emotional words related to interpersonal relationships. The second task used an implicit association test of emotion regulation (ER-IAT) to assess differences in implicit attitude toward emotion regulation between the two groups. The third task was a visual face detection task, which used different expressions to determine the efficiency of implicit emotion recovery in the two groups after a negative emotion induction.
The results showed that (1) in the first task, the high-kindness group had a significantly longer reaction time to words describing positive interpersonal relationships than to negative words (p = 0.02). In contrast, the low-kindness participants did not show any difference in reaction times to the two types of words (p = 0.4). (2) In the second task, the high-kindness group had a significantly higher D value (0.34 ± 0.64) than did the low-kindness group (-0.30 ± 0.68), t(54) = 3.64, p = 0.001. (3) In the third task, although the explicit emotion changes did not differ significantly between the two groups at any time point (all p > 0.05), the reaction times for the high-kindness participants were significantly shorter than those for the low-kindness participants in the visual face search tasks using happy-angry combination matrixes (p = 0.01).
This study presented the link between the personality trait of kindness and implicit emotional responses according to action control theory. These results suggested that (1) the emotional valence of words only interferes with the reaction times of high-kindness participants’ color judgment, and a more significant Stroop interference effect was only found for positive valence words. (2) High-kindness individuals were more inclined to demonstrate a positive implicit attitude in emotion regulation and preferred a deliberate, appropriate control of emotions. In contrast, the low-kindness individuals were more inclined toward a negative implicit attitude towards emotion regulation and preferred a direct expression of emotions. (3) The high-kindness individuals shifted their attention away from angry faces more quickly and had greater implicit emotion regulation ability. This study provided experimental evidence that there was an advantage for kindness traits with regard to implicit emotion regulation.

Key words: kindness personality trait, implicit emotion regulation, action control theory, controlled implicit regulation, face visual search task

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