When there's a will, there's a way: Disentangling the effects of goals and means in emotion regulation

Maya Tamir*, Eran Halperin, Roni Porat, Yochanan E. Bigman, Yossi Hasson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Emotion regulation involves activating an emotion goal (e.g., decrease negative emotions) and using an emotion regulation strategy (e.g., cognitive reappraisal) to pursue it. We propose that activating emotion goals and implementing means can independently affect emotion regulation. People are not always motivated to regulate emotions or to regulate them in a prohedonic manner. Therefore, activating prohedonic emotion goals is consequential. Furthermore, merely activating an emotion goal may trigger accessible means, leading to emotional changes. We tested these ideas by disentangling effects of pursuing prohedonic emotion goals and implementing cognitive reappraisal. First, we show that individuals perceive measures and manipulations of cognitive reappraisal as signaling the activation of specific emotion goals (i.e., decrease unpleasant or increase pleasant emotions) and the implementation of specific means (i.e., think differently about emotion-eliciting events). Second, we decomposed a classic measure of cognitive reappraisal to show that previously documented benefits of reappraisal might be because of the frequency of either pursuing prohedonic goals or using cognitive reappraisal. Third, in 2 empirical studies, we separately manipulated prohedonic goals (without specifying the means), cognitive reappraisal (without specifying the goal), and gave classic reappraisal instructions (specifying both the goal and the means). In both studies, activating prohedonic goals was as effective in decreasing negative emotions as was activating prohedonic goals with reappraisal instructions. Thus, activating emotion goals is essential, and sometimes even sufficient, for successful regulation. Finally, we demonstrate that the confound between goals and means is pervasive in the cognitive reappraisal literature, and offer recommendations for avoiding it.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)795-816
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association.


  • Cognitive reappraisal
  • Emotion
  • Emotion regulation
  • Goals
  • Motivation


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