Improving Affect Regulation in Eating Disorders: The Case for Positive Emotions
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Evidence from multiple studies suggests that regulation of emotions and intensity of affect may be relevant to understanding disordered eating. Emotion regulation concerns the ways in which emotions are managed in daily life, whereas Affect Intensity (Larsen et al., 1986) refers to individuals‟ typical emotional reactivity. The thesis examines emotion regulation and affect in females with eating pathology (subclinical as well as clinical), and looks at ways dysfunctional regulatory strategies may be improved. The main objective of the present research was to look at the influence of experimentally-induced positive affect on the choice of emotion management strategies. Study 1 looked at typical Affect Intensity and emotion regulation in a sample of subclinically eating-disordered University of Edinburgh students. This study examined functionality of regulatory strategies, typical intensity of affect, and the effects of experimentally induced happiness and sadness on the two. Study 2 introduced the construct of creativity into the discourse on emotions and psychopathology, and looked at creative tendencies in relation to Affect Intensity, emotion regulation and psychopathology (anxiety, depression and sub-clinical eating pathology). Study 3 looked at the effects of Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs) on emotion regulation, life satisfaction, anxiety and depression in a subclinically eating-disordered group and controls. Studies 4 and 5 were carried out in order to test and extend the results of Studies 1 and 3 with a clinical sample. In Study 4, emotion regulation, Affect Intensity and the immediate post-test effect of happiness on emotion regulation and life satisfaction were examined in females clinically diagnosed with eating disorders (i.e. anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and EDNOS). Study 5 looked at how longitudinal happiness induction influenced emotion regulation, eating behaviours and life satisfaction in eating-disordered individuals. One of the main findings across the studies was that females with subclinical and clinical forms of eating pathology tended to experience negative emotions of high intensity, and used predominantly dysfunctional regulatory strategies to manage them. Another important finding was that experimentally-induced positive emotions improved emotion regulation, and encouraged participants to choose healthier affect management strategies. The studies, their implications and contribution to theory and treatment of eating disorders are discussed.