Mood Regulation

Not so "Cool and Collected": Mood Regulation Prior to Social Interaction

Todd D. Nelson

California State University - Stanislaus

When we interact with others, the private emotional state we are experiencing may have to be changed to fit that social context (Ekman & Friesen, 1969). Choosing the best way to present one's self and one's emotions in social interactions is difficult, however, because there are so many situations in which one interacts with others. Often, a better solution to this dilemma may be to simply display no emotion at all - to "play it cool" - until one is in the situation, and can glean information from the other person or the context about which emotion (if any) is appropriate to display (Thoits, 1990).

Erber and Wegner (1991) recently found evidence for the notion that when people are about to interact with a stranger, and they know the mood of the stranger, their tendency toward neutralizing their mood is affected. Specifically, when the stranger has an opposite mood, one will prefer mood-incongruent stimuli, in an effort to neutralize one's mood, such that it is neither happy nor sad, thus appearing "cool and collected" until the subject can discern the appropriate emotion to display in that interaction.

In the present experiment, I expected to replicate Erber and Wegner's mood regulation findings. Participants were 64 (25 males, 39 females) Michigan State University undergraduates. As part of an ostensibly separate experiment, participants were first exposed to either a happy or sad mood induction procedure via listening to music. In the "second experiment," participants were shown their future interaction partner's self-report, which had their partner's self-rating of his/her mood. Participants were then asked to rate their interest in reading news stories based on the headlines (12 total: 4 funny, 4 neutral, and 4 sad in affective content). These mean ratings provided the main dependent measure of interest in this study.

Participants' mean ratings of each headline type were submitted to a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), with participant's mood (happy vs. sad), and partner's mood (happy vs. sad) as between participant's factors, and headline type (funny, sad, or neutral) as a within participants factor. Positive mood participants expecting to interact with a negative mood other should tend to prefer mood-incongruent headlines. Protected t-tests using the Bonferroni procedure revealed that the difference between these participants' preference for sad (M = 3.92) versus funny (M = 3.38) headlines was not significant, t(15) = 1.79, p > .05. However, preference for neutral headlines (M = 3.31) versus sad headlines (M =3.92) was significant, t(15) =2.46, p Second, sad participants expecting to interact with a happy other should show a preference for mood-incongruent headlines as well. Results indicated that the difference in preference for funny (M = 3.28) versus sad headlines(M = 3.95) was significant, t(15) = 3.32, p In sum, the present study revealed little support for Erber and Wegner's mood regulation hypothesis. Specifically, I found no evidence for mood neutralization in happy participants expecting to interact with a sad mood other. I did find a strong preference, in these participants, for sad versus neutral headlines. In sad participants expecting to interact with happy participants, the data indicated a significant preference for mood-congruent (sad) headlines, instead of mood-neutralizing funny headlines.

Daily life involves social interaction with others, and the context of these interactions has important influences on our emotions, and whether and how these are displayed to others. The present data suggest that the affective state of social interactants is only one factor -- not the predominant one however -- in the number of factors that influence whether we will seek to hide our emotions or display them to another person.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Todd D. Nelson, Department of Psychology, California State University - Stanislaus, Turlock, CA, 95382. Electronic mail may be sent to


Eckman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). The repertoire of nonverbal behavior: Categories, origins, usage, and coding. Semiotica, 1, 49-98.

Erber, R., & Wegner, D. T. (1991). On being cool and collected: Mood regulation in anticipation of social interaction. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, Columbus, OH.

Thoits, P. A. (1990). Emotional deviance: Research agendas. In T. D. Kemper (Ed), Research agendas in the sociology of emotions (pp. 180-203). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.