You Name It: Interpersonal Affect Labeling Diminishes Distress in Romantic Couples

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Although it is increasingly acknowledged that social interactions may provide support at times of adversity, whether or how such interactions can buffer distress remains unclear. The objective of the present study was to examine whether naming the emotions of our partner in aversive situations can effectively reduce distress and whether the regulator's empathy contributes to its effectiveness. We utilized a novel performance-based interpersonal affect labeling (IAL) paradigm. Seventy-four romantic couples were randomly divided into targets and regulators. The targets watched aversive pictures with low and high intensity and rated their level of distress after: (1) simply viewing the picture (control trials) (2) choosing a label that describes their emotional reaction (self-labeling trials), (3) viewing a label chosen for them by the regulator, their partner (IAL trials). It was found that IAL significantly reduced distress compared to self-labeling. Moreover, the effectiveness of IAL increased as a function of the regulator's level of empathy. The results highlight the importance of empathy in social support and suggest that as simple an action as naming our partner's emotions may be effective in reducing their distress. Moreover, it emphasizes the potential contribution of nonprofessional help in emotion regulation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)455-464
Number of pages10
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number2
Early online date17 Jun 2020
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • affect labeling
  • empathy
  • interpersonal emotion regulation
  • romantic couples

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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