ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (6): 1030-1043.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.01030

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Meaning in precision: Mechanisms and interventions of negative emotional granularity

YE Weihao, YU Meiqi, ZHANG Lihui, GAO Qi, FU Mingzhu, LU Jiamei()   

  1. School of Education, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China
  • Received:2021-11-11 Online:2023-06-15 Published:2023-03-07
  • Contact: LU Jiamei


Emotional granularity refers to the ability to make a fine distinction between similar emotional states, and can be divided into positive and negative emotional granularity based on the valence of differentiated emotions. The ability to carefully perceive and distinguish the rich complexity of negative emotional experiences has been found to have a profound impact on individuals’ physical and mental health. Negative emotional granularity has been shown to play an important role in enhancing well-being and reducing psychopathological symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
In view of its mechanisms, in cognitive level, negative emotional granularity can exert positive impacts on individuals by facilitating the adaptability and effectiveness of emotion regulation strategies and maintaining individuals’ emotional stability by improving interpersonal emotional skills, it can also serve as a protective factor for internalizing and externalizing problems. Specifically, negative emotional granularity reduces the use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies such as rumination and avoidance, and promotes the use of adaptive emotion regulation strategies. At the individual level, negative emotional granularity may maintain emotional stability through the selectivity and effectiveness of emotion regulation strategies, thereby promoting the physical and mental health of individuals. At the social level, negative emotional granularity is closely related to interpersonal emotional skills, which are also important for individuals' physical and mental health. In addition to maintaining short-term emotional stability, negative emotional granularity is also beneficial for long-term social adjustment, as negative emotional granularity can moderate the negative reactions caused by negative emotions and reduce the possibility of internalizing and externalizing problems. At the neurophysiological level, negative emotional granularity in the autonomic nervous system, can modulate the activity of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems and contribute to the maintenance of the one’s homeostasis. In the central nervous system, negative emotional granularity may facilitate changes in the activation patterns of neural networks related to emotional concepts, making it easier for individuals to achieve homeostasis in stressful situations.
The major interventions related to negative emotional granularity include feeling words training and mindfulness-based interventions. Based on the conceptual act theory of emotion, negative emotional granularity depends on the development of emotion concepts. We propose that feeling words are linked to the emotion concepts that people use to conceptualize their affective experiences and transform them into refined, granular emotional experiences. Based on the theory of constructed emotion, negative emotional granularity is based on the individual's construction of past emotional experiences. Mindfulness-based interventions actively train individuals to bring their attention on their internal mental states, and to stay with them (regardless of their valence) without evaluating or striving to change them. This shift in perspective might improve the ability to identify mental states and might increase individuals’ negative emotional granularity.
Future research should further improve the measurement accuracy of negative emotional granularity. More studies are needed to explore the dynamic change of negative emotional granularity from the person-centered perspective, expand its investigation, and focus on comparing the mechanisms of positive and negative emotional granularity.

Key words: emotional granularity, emotional conception, emotion regulation, stress coping, mindfulness

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