When Knowledge Is (Not) Power- The Influence of Anticipatory Information on Subsequent Emotion Regulation: Neural and Behavioral Evidence

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Abstract

Common wisdom suggests that knowledge is power. The present investigation tested the boundary conditions of this quote by asking how knowledge, in the form of anticipatory information regarding future emotional events, can be maladaptive for certain forms of subsequent coping. Therefore, Study 1 tested our hypothesis that anticipatory information selectively conflicts with and impairs subsequent emotion regulation that involves disengagement from processing emotional information (distraction). Importantly, utilizing event-related potentials enabled tracking the temporal neural processing stages underlying this selective regulatory impairment. Study 2 provided an important behavioral extension by exploring individuals’ knowledge regarding the influence of anticipatory information on subsequent regulation and the experiential consequences of this knowledge. Results of Study 1 confirmed that anticipatory information amplified initial attention toward emotional stimuli, selectively conflicting with continuous efforts to disengage attention via distraction (enhanced sustained late positive potentials amplitudes). Converging evidence demonstrated that even prior to regulation, receiving anticipatory information when expecting to distract produced a strong conflict (enhanced stimulus preceding negativity amplitudes). Moreover, results of Study 2 showed that individuals adequately chose to refrain from anticipatory information when expecting to distract, with suggestive evidence for resultant decreased negative experience. Counter to our prediction, anticipatory information did not facilitate subsequent regulation that involves engaging with emotional information processing (reappraisal). Nonetheless, individuals strongly preferred to receive anticipatory information when about to reappraise. Taken together, these findings suggest that knowledge is not power when it comes to disengagement coping, but individuals seem to recognize this maladaptive link and adjust their information-seeking behavior accordingly.

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