The tendency to reflect on the emotions of self and others is a key aspect of emotional awareness (EA)—a trait widely recognized as relevant to mental health. However, the degree to which EA draws on general reflective cognition vs. specialized socio-emotional mechanisms remains unclear. Based on a synthesis of work in neuroscience and psychology, we recently proposed that EA is best understood as a learned application of domain-general cognitive processes to socio-emotional information. In this paper, we report a study in which we tested this hypothesis in 448 (125 male) individuals who completed measures of EA and both general reflective cognition and socio-emotional performance. As predicted, we observed a significant relationship between EA measures and both general reflectiveness and socio-emotional measures, with the strongest contribution from measures of the general tendency to engage in effortful, reflective cognition. This is consistent with the hypothesis that EA corresponds to the application of general reflective cognitive processes to socio-emotional signals.
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