Thursday, 27 August 2015

Hiding negative emotions may take more of a toll on your relationship than faking positive ones, especially if you're extravert

Handling your emotions in a close relationship is often a balancing act. You want to be true to yourself and open with your partner, but there are also times when it seems necessary to exert some emotional control – to hide your frustration, for example, or to feign happiness at their news (perhaps your partner is thrilled about a work trip, which in truth you'd rather they didn't take).

A new study, published recently in the Journal of Psychology, is among the first the explore the toll of these two emotional strategies: hiding negative emotions and faking positive ones. Specifically, Tali Seger-Guttmann and Hana Medler-Liraz wanted to find out how the use of the two strategies in a relationship affects people's satisfaction with that relationship, and whether this varies depending on whether someone is introvert or extravert.

The researchers surveyed hundreds of male and female Israeli participants (average age 32), all of whom were in a relationship of at least six months; half of them were married, the others were living with their partner or dating. The participants answered questions about their levels of extraversion; how often they hid negative emotions like nervousness, hate and anxiety in their relationship; how often they faked positive emotions like happiness, concern and love; and they answered several questions about their relationship satisfaction and also how often they experienced health problems such as fatigue and headaches.

Overall, hiding negative negative emotions was more strongly associated with poorer relationship satisfaction than faking positive emotion. But importantly, this link was moderated by the participants' personality. Hiding negative emotions was linked much more closely to poor relationship satisfaction for extraverts than introverts. Faking positive emotion more often was also, but to a lesser extent than hiding negative emotion, linked with poorer relationship satisfaction, and this was equally true for both introverts and extraverts.

"The fact that both strategies [were] significantly related to less satisfaction with intimate relationships links our results to previous research on the importance and significance of authenticity in close relationships," the researchers said.

Turning to the scores for health problems, there was evidence that hiding negative emotions was linked to more health symptoms for extraverts, but not for introverts, presumably because concealing emotions in this way comes somewhat naturally for introverts but not for extraverts. On the flip side, faking positive emotions was less strongly associated to health problems for extraverts than for introverts – again, perhaps because faking positive emotions is more consistent with an extraverted personality.

Unfortunately, like any cross-sectional research that only surveys people at one point in time, this study requires us to make assumptions about the causal direction between the factors that were measured. The researchers believe that hiding and faking emotions are probably affecting relationship satisfaction and health, but of course it's likely the influence is at least partly in the other direction – when a relationship is going well, censoring our emotional displays is probably not so necessary.

Despite this shortcoming, this is the first study to explore links between hiding and faking emotions and personality, and the researchers say it could "help therapists and counsellors develop a deeper understanding of the interplay between emotional regulation styles (hiding and faking emotions) and personality style, and hence contribute to improving the quality of couples' relationships."


Seger-Guttmann, T., & Medler-Liraz, H. (2015). The Costs of Hiding and Faking Emotions: The Case of Extraverts and Introverts The Journal of Psychology, 1-20 DOI: 10.1080/00223980.2015.1052358

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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