Context shapes social judgments of positive emotion suppression and expression

Abstract: It is generally considered socially undesirable to suppress the expression of positive emotion. However, previous research has not considered the role that social context plays in governing appropriate emotion regulation. We investigated a context in which it may be more appropriate to suppress than express positive emotion, hypothesizing that positive emotion expressions would be considered inappropriate when the valence of the expressed emotion (i.e., positive) did not match the valence of the context (i.e., negative). Six experiments (N 1,621) supported this hypothesis: when there was a positive emotion-context mismatch, participants rated targets who suppressed positive emotion as more appropriate, and evaluated them more positively than targets who expressed positive emotion. This effect occurred even when participants were explicitly made aware that suppressing targets were experiencing mismatched emotion for the context (e.g., feeling positive in a negative context), suggesting that appropriate emotional expression is key to these effects. These studies are among the first to provide empirical evidence that social costs to suppression are not inevitable, but instead are dependent on context. Expressive suppression can be a socially useful emotion regulation strategy in situations that call for it.


  • Context
  • Emotion expression
  • Emotion regulation
  • Expressive suppression
  • Positive emotion