Featured AME Researcher: Darwin A. Guevarra, PhD.

Darwin Guevarra, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Scholar with the Emotional Well-Being Network at the University of California, San Francisco, with research interests in affect and affect regulation processes, and the implications they hold for well-being and health. He focuses on examining the various ways in which people self-regulate their affective life, with minimal cognitive effort, and how these processes are affected by sociocultural and psychological differences. 




What is emotional well-being research, and what specific facets of emotion and affective states do you study in your work?

I am part of a network that came up with a working definition of emotional well-being. "EWB is a multi-dimensional composite that encompasses how positive an individual feels generally and about life overall. It includes both experiential features (emotional quality of momentary and everyday experiences) and reflective features (judgments about life satisfaction, sense of meaning, and ability to pursue goals that can include and extend beyond the self). These features occur in the context of culture, life circumstances, resources, and life course." That's a bit of a mouthful, but it is meant to be very comprehensive. I have done work on both transient emotional states and more cognitive features like life satisfaction. My work really specializes in what type of cognitions, behaviors, or activities that can impact people's emotional life. For example, I've done work looking at how our purchasing decisions can impact our momentary happiness or how believing that a nasal spray can help you regulate your emotions can influence how you experience distress.

Can you share a bit more about the ideas in your forthcoming chapter, “Harnessing Placebo Effects to Regulate Emotions?” in the Handbook of Emotional Regulation?

In "Harnessing Placebo Effects to Regulate Emotions", we map out how we can leverage placebo effects in helping us manage our emotions. Placebo effects is a phenomenon in which in some instances, a person believes they are taking an active treatment or going through an active intervention, leading to beneficial effects. For a long time, placebos were just seen as a nuisance in research that scientist needs to control in order to determine if their particular treatment or intervention actually works. There's now a shift in the perception of placebo effects as an intervention in themselves as belief or mindset interventions. For example, if you can help someone believe that inhaling a nasal spray can reduce their distress even if the nasal spray has nothing in it, then you're essentially using placebo effects to regulate emotions. So in this chapter, we map out the different ways we can use placebos to regulate emotions. For example, placebos can be used as an emotion regulation strategy by itself, placebo effects can be used to enhance the effectiveness of existing strategies, or placebos can be used as a co-regulation strategy. We believe placebos offer such interesting possibilities in helping people manage their affective life.


Can you share more about your work with the Big Joy Project, and what current research suggests about the impact of micro-acts of joy on our well-being?

The BIGJOY project is an ongoing, large-scale project in which people engage in 7 different acts of joy for 7 days. It is a way for people to figure out what sort of activities provide joy in their life. I'm one of the scientists that is involved in the data-analytic end of the project. For now, I can share that people are experiencing substantial increases in their joy and happiness with these low-intensity acts of joy.

What topics do you hope to explore in your work in the future?  What burning questions do you have?

In the future, I would be very excited to pursue more work on how to leverage placebo effects to help manage our affective life. It has tons of practical applications since our affective life seems to be responsive to beliefs and expectations-based interventions like placebos. Imagine being prescribed a placebo pill or nasal spray when you're chronically stressed. It seems silly, but there are many studies showing robust effects of placebos on emotional distress. Now, take this even further. Imagine being prescribed placebo pills or nasal sprays with full knowledge they're placebos. There is now growing evidence that these open-label or non-deceptive placebos can also be effective in managing our affective life.

Visit Dr. Guevarra's UCSF profile here.