Business or Pleasure? Utilitarian Versus Hedonic Considerations in Emotion Regulation

Maya Tamir*, Chi Yue Chiu, James J. Gross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


It is widely accepted that emotions have utilitarian as well as hedonic consequences. Nevertheless, it is typically assumed that individuals regulate emotions to obtain hedonic, rather than utilitarian, benefits. In this study, the authors tested whether individuals represent the utility of pleasant and unpleasant emotions and whether they would be motivated to experience unpleasant emotions if they believed they could be useful. First, findings revealed that participants explicitly viewed approach emotions (e.g., excitement) as useful for obtaining rewards, but viewed avoidance emotions (e.g., worry) as useful for avoiding threats. Second, this pattern was replicated in implicit representations of emotional utility, which were dissociated from explicit ones. Third, implicit, but not explicit, representations of emotional utility predicted motives for emotion regulation. When anticipating a threatening task, participants who viewed emotions such as worry and fear as useful for avoiding threats preferred to engage in activities that were likely to increase worry and fear (vs. excitement) before the task. These findings demonstrate that utilitarian considerations play an important, if underappreciated, role in emotion regulation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)546-554
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • emotion regulation
  • hedonism
  • implicit processes
  • utility


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