Expression and Emotion, World Series Edition

What emotion is the Cards’ skipper feeling right now?

During the first game of the world series, the booth had a chance to talk to Tony La Russa about emoting in the dugout. They pointed out that Ron Washington had a much more expressive style and asked the Cardinals manager about his emotional state.

To paraphrase the stoic response (delivered with a smirk), La Russa said that he was broiling on the inside. And that Washington’s style (“when you do something good, show your emotions“) was fine as long as it came from a genuine place.

Popular psychology has a preference for emoting. The American Pyschological Association states that anger “turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.” Recent medical research even suggests that a single tear can help reduce allergies and reduce pain from arthritis — and maybe even help regulate the immune system.

What do our psychological cornerstones have to say on the subject? Would they want La Russa to emote more?

Aristotle defines catharsis in The Poetics as the “purgation of pity and fear,” but also believes that it is something that happens in tandem with a performed drama. This definition does not so much depend on the expression of emotion by the viewer, but by the spectacle of the moment.

These two viewers, Washington and La Russa, are watching a drama unfold, and the mere watching of that drama may provide their emotional selves with catharsis. This seems to suggest that either mode of emotionality is sufficient for inner catharsis. Both guys are good.

Catharsis was also important in Sigmund Freud’s work. To him, it was important to unearth many of the small traumas of our childhood. The talking cure — psychotherapy — was designed to help a person express those emotions, which would in turn help remove some of the power of the suppression.

But is this what we are talking about? In this case, we have two grown men reacting to something that is happening in the moment. There is no moment of shame that these two managers have to unearth during the World Series. Maybe afterwards, looking back. But in the moment? We’re really talking about visceral reactions to a moment in time.

“Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.” — Carl Jung

Though Carl Jung doesn’t explicitly argue that the expression of emotion is important, at least not in a pithy quote, he does espouse the importance of emotion in the workings of our self. And one interpretation of the shadow self is that it is the part of our unconscious that is populated with our repressed emotions. What we have in our shadow self often leads to projection: we don’t know that the thing we condemn in others is the thing we condemn in ourselves.

So, it’s entirely possible that if you have a problem with Tony La Russa’s lack of expression, you actually have a problem with your own lack of emotive expression. Psychology!

More recent work has focused in on the different styles of adults dealing with emotion in a practical, daily way. In particular, the idea that emotions, in the moment, can interfere with what we do. Imagine Tony La Russa — or Ron Washington for that matter — bawling at a critical moment of the game because of a bad bounce for his team. Haunting.

We cope with this problem by at least two modes of emotional regulation in the moment: Reappraisal and Suppression. This article on the subject describes the difference:

Reappraisal involves changing how we think about a situation in order to decrease its emotional impact. Suppression involves inhibiting ongoing emotion-expressive behavior. The method of reappraisal involves reinterpreting the emotional trigger into something less provocative. Suppression involves catching the reaction after it begins and containing its’ consequential behavior.

The article goes on to quote some findings from a set of studies by James Gross (Stanford) and Robert W. Levinson (California) from 1997 to 2002. It seems that emotional suppression:

* leads to more powerful internal emotions
* reduces memory for details of emotional events
* leads to physiological costs
* does not diminish negative emotions

Uh-oh Cardinals fans.

But in the end, the most interesting finding of these studies may be that most people use elements of both strategies. To paraphrase. We may really have an emotional tool bag at our disposal, which includes suppression, reappraisal, redirection, explanation and expression. In other words, suppression and explanation might work for someone — if the strong emotion is suppressed for a moment, and then explained inwardly, it won’t lead to projection and anger and blame towards an external party.

So La Russa might suppress the emotions of the moment, explain it readily through the particulars of the moment, and move on to cognition. Washington might choose to express the emotion more often in order to bypass a step.

Or, they might not do any of these things. Maybe what we’ve really learned is that there’s peril in trying to dissect the psychology of our favorite sports figures. One man’s smile is another man’s stifled cry.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here or at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

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There is no crying in baseball.

juan pierre's mustache
juan pierre's mustache

what yirmiyahu is REALLY saying is that he, himself, is incapable of crying and projects this suppression of emotion onto an entire sport.