January 11, 2011
Neutral Emotion Projection Drains Brain

If you have a job that requires you to project a poker face then the intellectual energy needed to suppress emotions cuts down on energy available to do the job. So if you can get away with expressing your emotions think about doing so.

Employees who have to maintain a neutral disposition while they are on the clock tend to spend more energy to meet that requirement; therefore, they have less energy to devote to work tasks, according to new research from Rice University, the University of Toronto and Purdue University.

The researchers found that workers who must avoid appearing either overly positive or negative -- such as journalists, health care professionals, social workers, lawyers and law enforcement officers -- suppress expressions of emotion more than workers in other service-oriented professions, where the expression of positive emotions is called for.

"Our study shows that emotion suppression takes a toll on people," said Daniel Beal, assistant professor of psychology at Rice and co-author of the study. "It takes energy to suppress emotions, so it's not surprising that workers who must remain neutral are often more rundown or show greater levels of burnout. The more energy you spend controlling your emotions, the less energy you have to devote to the task at hand."

Suppression of positive emotions should only be done when needed. Neutrally expressive employees reduce customer satisfaction. So what about negative emotions?

Beal and his co-authors, John Trougakos of the University of Toronto and Christine Jackson of Purdue University, found that employees will generally engage in higher levels of suppression in an attempt to adhere to the neutral display requirement to meet the expectations of their managers or the public.

Another consequence that the researchers noticed was that customers who interacted with a neutrally expressive employee were in less-positive moods and, in turn, gave lower ratings of service quality and held less-positive attitudes toward that employee's organization. The findings suggest that even though neutrality in such jobs is required for a number of reasons -- to maintain trust, to keep a situation calm, to not influence the actions of others -- it may not result in a particularly positive reaction from others.

Does your job unnecessarily force you to suppress your emotions? Or does it necessarily force you to suppress your emotions? Or do you happen to have a job where you can publically ride your emotional roller coaster?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 11 06:12 PM  Brain Emotion Alteration


Comments
Tom Billings said at January 12, 2011 3:55 PM:

An interesting article, because I have found the inverse true as well. I am an Aspie, and from the age of 10 I tried to convince my family that the ordinary speeds of emotional affect I could simulate using mentally pre-practiced scripts was tiring to the point I could not always do it, even if I had scripts for every situation. This is not uncommon in the ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)community. Indeed, one prominent book by an Aspie is "Pretending to be Normal" by a Dr Liane Holliday Willey, that details her difficulties in such pretense.

Just as suppressing emotional affect consumes the active abilities of the brain, so does simulating that affect, at a rate faster than what someone with an ASD would usually do without the pretense of social nimbleness that is so often socially demanded of them. Neither teachers nor family would admit that what I called "holding up the mask" was a problem. They would never admit that the degree of effort and attention required for it took anything substantial from the rest of my life. As the article notes, in fact there are substantial resources diverted from other mental activities. In fact, "the mask" often simply becomes too heavy.

This seemed to happen because there was a general refusal to admit that huge portions of socializing information are passed by emotional cuing, not intellectual calculation, and reasoning. Most people still assume that their emotionally adept and socially nimble skill set are an equivalent to the skills tested for in IQ testing. They are not. They are hard-wired emotional pathways which are used to pass information by implication and body language. Suppressing the affect in neurotypicals takes enough effort to produce the results expressed in this article. Many with ASDs can simulate the behavior of those neural circuits by intellect, but it is a far slower process, that often occupies a huge portion of the intellectual capacity of the individual. Stating this to someone who is proud of their social abilities, with the obvious implication their skills are not placing them alongside someone with a formally tested high IQ, can make an enemy for life.

Thus, use of the intellect to sustain the pretense of social nimbleness can slow or obliterate other uses of the intellect, especially in the large portion of people with ASDs who are *not*at*all* good at switching back and forth from one mental activity to another. This can present people expressing an ASD with an unpalatable choice-either be a bit more socially agile,...or be someone who achieves things with their intellect that "neurotypicals" too often cannot. It is a choice that is one of the hard limits today to the achievements of many with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

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