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Do d.tech Students Mask Their True Emotions?

By Sam Colman

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How comfortable are you around your peers? Can you truly be honest around them? While most would answer yes, studies show that people use a “social mask” to “save face.” Is self-reported happiness just part of that mask?

According to psychologists, Tara Chaplain and Amelia Aldao, in a study published in 2013 in the Psychological Bulletin, “Over the first few years of life, children develop … expressions of emotion that allow them to communicate their feelings, adjust those communications according to the situation, and even mask emotions.” Furthermore, studies by a collaborative group of psychological researchers in the U.K.,  show that not only do people regulate their emotions depending on their situations, but that this then affects the emotions of the people around them. This creates a chain of “induced emotion regulation.” This is important, because it can be dangerous.

Hiding emotions can actually be harmful to one’s mental health. When someone suppresses their emotions, it’s more than just “saving face” or hiding their emotions from others, they are pushing their emotions so far down, that they’re hiding them from themselves. Research has found that emotional suppression increases vulnerability to depression. Understanding if students at d.tech are comfortable enough to use the school as an emotional outlet, is vital to controlling and preserving mental health in our school community. If students feel the need to hide what they’re feeling, then none of the “Trust, Care, and Commitment” actually exists.

I recently conducted a small school-based study exploring the inherent bias in the self-reporting of average happiness levels. The reason I did this experiment, was that I believe quantifying “masking” could helps identify warning signs of depression.

In order to test this idea, I decided to talk to my peers in a kind of informal study of happiness. In one instance, I surveyed a group of 15 people in a single room. In another, I talked to people one-on-one, and lastly, I did an online survey (with the same amount of people in each).

The data from the online survey showed: lower numbers of reported happiness among people id’ing as not straight. (However, because only 15 people took the survey, I don’t believe we can draw conclusions from this data.)

More interestingly, I noticed a variety of reactions while doing the group and one-on-one interviews. For instance, girls who id’d as straight, tended to second guess themselves when asked “on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your average happiness?” What I mean by that is, they tended to answer something along the lines of “Ummm…… I guess I would be a [insert number here].” There was a similar pattern in straight males. However, instead of second guessing themselves, they seemed to need to reassure themselves, often repeating their number, two or three times getting louder every instance. Possibly the most interesting thing, was that, regardless of gender, people who identified as anything other than straight seemed to have the lowest numbers of self-reported happiness, but were also the most confident in presenting their answers.

Going forward, I’d like to conduct this same experiment in groups of people who have received an official diagnosis of depression, and people who haven’t.  As d.tech continues to grow, it’s important to keep in mind how people express and/or mask their true feelings. That is, if we want to make sure the school’s motto of Trust, Care, and Commitment applies to its student’s mental health.


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