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Review of "Emotions, Stress, and Health"

By Alex J. Zautra
Oxford University Press, 2003
Review by John W. Reich, Ph.D. on Jul 3rd 2003
Emotions, Stress, and Health

The cognitive revolution in psychology has become well-established, and the field is now turning attention to emotions and affective processes. Although the topic of emotions has never really disappeared, major lines of research and theory have come to prominence in theory, research, and practice.  Current topics in emotion extend from clinical topics to depression and anxiety in mental health to emotion's influence on information processing to imaging studies of the loci of emotions in brain processing.  The "emotion revolution" is now itself well-established.  

Alex Zautra of Arizona State University has moved this revolution forward significantly with his new book, which summarizes an exciting conceptual and empirical model of the emotions.    I have been a colleague of his for many years and I have happily engaged in collaborative research with him on the topics he presents in this book.  My enthusiasm for this material should be obvious, and I have no hesitation in proclaiming my favorable bias in reviewing this book.  I was happy to see him undertake it as a single author project because of his extraordinary grasp of the central theme and its fascinating variations. 

Zautra's book was written to counter the tendency of researchers to think of emotions as single, discrete processes.  (e.g., "positive vs. negative").  Thus, an investigator may study depression, positive mood, anxiety, or some other single affective state. The thesis of Zautra's work is that affect systems such as these do in fact operate separately, residing with their own separate causal network. But the great advancement comes where Zautra and his colleagues have developed a "two-dimensional" approach in which both positive and negative affects are conceptualized and measured as co-occurring, simultaneous processes. The central issue at this more complex, integrative level is, how the emotions relate to each other, either at any given time or over time.  A comprehensive model of the person has to be complex enough to account for the simultaneous presence of both positive and negative states.  To date, though, psychologists have not systematically studied the dynamics of both operating together.

  Although that insight (and attendant measurement) is a main contribution of this new model, even more exciting is the discovery of Zautra and his collaborators of the conditions under which the emotions actually become related to each other. Their research shows that under ordinary circumstances of daily living, the affects are separate systems; one can be happy and sad at the same time, as in bittersweet circumstances. But under stress, the two systems become collapsed and highly inversely correlated. Under stress, people lose the ability to maintain positive feelings because they have become inversely linked, causally, with negative states. This state of affect simplification has the effect of reducing information-processing capacity and therefore reducing emotional clarity, one of the key components of emotional intelligence.  Thus, it is to stress that we must look to find the main causal factor in emotional complexity. 

This "dynamic model" of linked affects is a major contribution to any study of emotions and to any therapeutic approach aimed at improving mental health.  Interventions have to target both negative emotions to reduce their impact while also helping the person to experience positive emotions.

In terms of the organization of the book, the initial chapters describe the two-factor model of emotions, citing research varying from cross-cultural similarities in emotion to the circumplex to Davidson's brain imaging studies. These all support the basic model of the separateness of emotions. The role of stress in the physiology of emotions is discussed and then linked to the book's main theme of affect relations.   The later chapters pursue the implications of this insight by a careful explication of how the affects co-occur under the particular conditions being reviewed. The topics range from physical and mental health, emotional intelligence, emotions and pain, and depression and anxiety.  The final chapters review applications showing how this integrative approach clarifies findings on such topics as the addictions, emotional abuse of children, marriage and close relationships, work life, and "the emotional community," discussing how our community life is compounded out of interacting communal positive feelings and the impact of stressful community experiences such as the Columbine school tragedy.  The literature reviewed in all chapters is by no means exhaustive of the vast literature on emotions; it is selective and targeted.  The overall effect, however, is to provide a new context and an exciting heuristic for psychologists to rethink their approach to emotions and affect in a broader, more dynamic context. 

 Zautra's book is written for both educated lay people and professionals.  It will be particularly exciting to researchers and practitioners since it provides a conceptually clean and consistent summary of the approach.  There simply is no comparable book on the market; since this "two-dimensional" model is at the cutting-edge of emotion research, Zautra's exciting book has no competitors.


© 2003 John W. Reich


John W. Reich, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 

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