Stopping Surface-Acting Spillover: A Transactional Theory of Stress Perspective

Amy L. Bartels, Anna C. Lennard, Brent A. Scott, Suzanne J. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Faking one’s emotional display to fit situational norms, otherwise known as surface acting, has long been regarded as harmful to employees at work. A nascent body of literature has begun to examine the detriments of surface acting beyond the workplace, particularly as they spill over into the homelife. We articulate how the transactional theory of stress serves as a unifying framework that not only explains why surface acting tends to deplete employees and leads to maladaptive responses at home but also what coping strategies can be utilized to halt this spillover process. Using two complementary experience-sampling methodology studies of employee–spouse dyads, we test a spillover model of surface acting. In Study 1 and our Supplement to Study 1, we find support for the buffering role of challenge appraisals on the relationship between surface acting and depletion at work. We also find support for the mitigating role of supportive spousal interactions on the relationship between depletion at work and perceived inauthenticity at home. We also find support for the conditional indirect effect from surface acting at work to relationship satisfaction at home. In Study 2, we develop daily writing exercises to enhance challenge appraisals and supportive spousal interactions, and we find that these interventions also buffer the surface-acting spillover process. Overall, this work demonstrates the importance of both depletion and perceived inauthenticity at home as linked spillover mechanisms and reveals the success of agentic coping mechanisms (in both domains) that can buffer this process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)466-491
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 25 2022


  • surface acting
  • transactional theory of stress
  • work–home spillover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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