Friday, 15 February 2013

Toxic Emotional Experiences: What they are, How they affect us, How to avoid them

When does experiencing negative emotions lead to longer-lasting consequences, for our mental health, our attitude toward work, or our performance? Negative emotions themselves tend to be short-lived, such as the flash of hot anger during a fruitless phone call with your would-be internet provider. These moments in themselves needn't necessarily wear us down; in fact, they can be galvanising, such as anger generated from a sense of injustice. Researchers Tina Kiefer and Laurie Barclay propose that for lasting harm to occur, discrete negative events need to happen against a wider backdrop, to which every event contributes and by which every event is given weight. These backdrops they describe as 'toxic emotional experiences' (TEEs).

Kiefer and Barclay explored this concept within a pool of 876 participants recruited online, asking them to anonymously rate their own performance, attitude toward the organisation (in terms of trust, perceived organisational support, and affective commitment, the feeling of belonging), and psychological health. These outcome measures were predicted using negative emotions such as angry or anxious, and as a second component of their model, features that are seen as defining of a TEE. This was based on items describing three features: whether emotional experiences were recurring, draining, and encouraged disconnection from others.

Structural Equational Modelling was used to ask whether and how the TEEs mediated the impact of negative emotions on the outcome measures. Within the data, various effects were found: performance was influenced by levels of disconnection and recurrence, psychological health by recurrence and draining, and attitude to organisation by recurrence. Total TEE also influenced each outcome.

In a second study, Kiefer and Barclay looked at helping behaviours, such as contributing ideas or sharing workload, within 136 individuals from within a single organisation. Contrary to predictions, higher incidence of negative emotions produced more helping behaviours, rather than less. It's possible this is an artefact of certain teams in high pressure, crisis situations, experiencing more negative emotions during a time when they were required to work more closely together. However, TEEs, particularly the recurring component, moderated the effect by making helping behaviours less likely. This study shows that not only are TEEs distinct from raw negative emotional events, the two can pull apart in different directions.

Recurring appeared to be a particularly important component of TEEs. You can see it as the chip, chipping away of resolve due to the sense that problems are continuing without a clear end. This study reinforces the importance of addressing persistent low-level negative issues, as their effects seem to be insidious - a kind of No Broken Windows effect for the emotional workplace, perhaps?

ResearchBlogging.orgKiefer, T., & Barclay, L. (2012). Understanding the mediating role of toxic emotional experiences in the relationship between negative emotions and adverse outcomes Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85 (4), 600-625 DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2012.02055.x

Further reading:

Lee, K., & Allen, N. J. (2002). Organizational citizenship behavior and workplace deviance: The role of affect and cognitions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 131–142. DOI:10.1037/0021-9010.87.1.131

1 comment:

  1. Emotions is a subject covered within section 2 of my psychology class. A couple things I found real interesting is how Toxic Emotional Experiences(TEE)are developed and helping behaviors of these experiences. It takes smaller frustrating experiences to add on to a big one in order to develop TEE. Here is something that is real interesting: negative emotions actually higher likeliness of helping behaviors. It could be the feel of need to make things better and produce positive emotions.