Prosocial versus Instrumental Motives for Interpersonal Emotion Regulation

Karen Niven*, A.P. Henkel, Jennifer Hanratty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Why do people try to influence the way others feel? Previous research offers two competing accounts of people’s motives for attempting to regulate others’ emotions. The instrumental account holds that people use interpersonal emotion regulation to benefit their own goal pursuit. Conversely, the prosocial account holds that people use interpersonal emotion regulation to benefit others’ goals. This article juxtaposes these accounts across two studies. Study 1 demonstrates that when given the chance to benefit themselves through their interpersonal emotion regulation, people choose to do so, even when this involves making a friend feel unpleasant. Yet when given the chance to benefit a friend through interpersonal emotion regulation, with no personal gains, people also choose to do so. Study 2 reveals no overall tendencies towards either motive when people can choose between benefitting themselves or a friend through their interpersonal emotion regulation. However, people’s motives can be reliably predicted by their values: individuals with high values of care and concern for others show a greater tendency to regulate a friend’s emotions prosocially and a lower tendency towards instrumentality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-96
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Theoretical Social Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date17 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019



  • interpersonal emotion regulation
  • emotion regulation
  • motivation
  • prosocial
  • instrumental

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