Attentional Deployment Is Not Necessary for Successful Emotion Regulation via Cognitive Reappraisal or Expressive Suppression

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Abstract

According to appraisal theories of emotion, cognitive reappraisal is a successful emotion regulation strategy because it involves cognitively changing our thoughts, which, in turn, change our emotions. However, recent evidence has challenged the importance of cognitive change and, instead, has suggested that attentional deployment may at least partly explain the emotion regulation success of cognitive reappraisal. The purpose of the current study was to examine the causal relationship between attentional deployment and emotion regulation success. We examined 2 commonly used emotion regulation strategies—cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression—because both depend on attention but have divergent behavioral, experiential, and physiological outcomes. Participants were either instructed to regulate emotions during free-viewing (unrestricted image viewing) or gaze-controlled (restricted image viewing) conditions and to self-report negative emotional experience. For both emotion regulation strategies, emotion regulation success was not altered by changes in participant control over the (a) direction of attention (free-viewing vs. gaze-controlled) during image viewing and (b) valence (negative vs. neutral) of visual stimuli viewed when gaze was controlled. Taken together, these findings provide convergent evidence that attentional deployment does not alter subjective negative emotional experience during either cognitive reappraisal or expressive suppression, suggesting that strategy-specific processes, such as cognitive appraisal and response modulation, respectively, may have a greater impact on emotional regulation success than processes common to both strategies, such as attention.

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