How can you predict if someone will stay calm or crack under stress? Can someone accept critical feedback or will it crush their self-esteem?

A new study suggests that those with a particular cognitive capability were best at coping and controlling negative emotions after being harshly criticized.

Psychologist Dr. Heath A. Demaree, author of the study in the journal Emotion, found that working memory capacity is critical to controlling emotions. Working memory capacity, or WMC, is the “ability to process a stream of information while engaging in a separate task or while being distracted,” he said.

For example, taking notes during a lecture: you must listen to what the lecturer is saying at the moment, remember what has already been said, and write it down.

“People differ with regard to how well they can control their emotions, and one factor that predicts it is non-emotional in nature — it is a ‘cold’ cognitive construct,” Demaree said.

In the study, Demaree and Dr. Brandon J. Schmeichel analyzed connections between high WMC and the control of emotions. Demaree said this research is “rare because it predicts how emotional functioning is related to WMC… and ours is some of the first research that shows that cold cognition predicts hot emotion.”

The researchers found that though emotions can be controlled, people with higher WMC were better at managing their emotions when directed to do so.

Stated differently, people with higher WMC automatically used a strategy that made them feel better and remained controlled when confronted with a negative situation such as criticism or a personal attack, Demaree explained.

Being able to predict emotional responses can be useful in a number of ways. Emotion regulation techniques can be tailored to individuals based on how likely they’re able to employ them.

Source: Case Western Reserve University