Emotions can offer instrumental benefits, but people do not always take advantage of them. In this paper, we identify one factor that might propel people to seek emotions that have instrumental value – namely, the level at which a situation is construed. According to construal level theory, construing a situation in high-level terms increases preferences reflecting self-control (i.e., preferences for delayed over immediate outcomes). Therefore, we hypothesized that activating a high-level construal would motivate people to experience emotions that are perceived as instrumental for achieving their goals in the long-run, even if they may be aversive in the short-run. In three studies, inducing a high (vs. low) level mindset increased participants’ preferences for useful, albeit unpleasant, emotions. Participants in a high (vs. low) level mindset expressed a stronger preference for anger when they were asked to imagine a hypothetical scenario in which anger was presented as more useful for goal pursuit (Studies 1–2) and when they played an economic game in which anger was potentially useful (Study 3). We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.
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- Construal level
- Emotion regulation