New Staff Profile: Introducing Pete Koval

Dr Peter Koval joined the School in March as a Lecturer. Newsletter sat down with him to ask about his past, present and future.


Tell me a little bit about your academic background.

I started out at the University of Melbourne, where I did a BA with majors in psychology and Islamic studies, followed by Honours in psychology, and finally an MPhil in social psychology. In 2010, I moved to Belgium to start a PhD at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), where I worked in the Research Group of Quantitative Psychology and Individual Differences, studying emotion. In 2014, I returned to Australia to a postdoctoral fellowship at Australian Catholic University (ACU), where I was until coming back to Melbourne in March 2017.

What's your main area of research interest at the moment?

Broadly speaking, my research focuses on how daily emotional functioning relates to well-being and psychopathology. I’m particularly interested in the idea that emotional flexibility is important for optimal psychological functioning, more important perhaps than merely experiencing lots of positive emotions or few negative emotions. More recently, I’ve started studying how people deliberately regulate their emotions in daily life, and how the use and effectiveness of different strategies varies across contexts.

You've recently commenced as a lecturer in the School. What will you working on in the next year or two, and who will you collaborate with here at the University and elsewhere?

I’ll be working on a large-scale experience sampling study of emotion regulation in daily life, funded by an ARC Discovery, with John Gleeson (ACU), Peter Kuppens (KU Leuven) and Tom Hollenstein (Queen’s University). Also with John Gleeson, I’m collaborating with Mario Alvarez (Orygen) on several RCTs of novel online treatments for young people recovering from mental illness and their carers. In terms of collaborations within the School, I am working with Elise Holland and Nick Haslam on a project examining the impact of sexual objectification on women’s emotions in daily life. I’m also collaborating with Brock Bastian to investigate how adverse and unpleasant experiences can promote well-being in daily life. Finally, I’m working with Kate Barford and Luke Smillie to look into the personality correlates of experiencing mixed emotions in daily life.

Do you have a recent paper that you are especially proud of? Tell us what you did, what you found and why it matters.

In a recent paper, published in Psychological Science, my co-authors and I tested the hypothesis that using cognitive reappraisal in a context-sensitive way is related to greater well-being. A predominantly student sample (n=74) rated their use of reappraisal and perceived controllability in daily life, 10 times each day for 7 days. Participants also completed a number of well-being measures at the start of the week. We found that participants who used reappraisal more in contexts they judged as relatively uncontrollable and less in situations they perceived as controllable, had higher levels of well-being. In contrast, those who showed the opposite pattern of reappraisal use had lower levels of well-being. Importantly, how much people used reappraisal overall was unrelated to well-being. These findings are important because they suggest that reappraisal (or any other emotion regulation strategy) is not uniformly healthy or unhealthy, but rather that adaptive emotion regulation involves matching the strategy to the situation.

Thank you, Peter, and welcome to the School!