The Temporal Deployment of Emotion Regulation Strategies During Negative Emotional Episodes

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Time is given a central place in theoretical models of emotion regulation (Gross, 1998, 2015), but key questions regarding the role of time remain unanswered. We investigated 2 such unanswered questions. First, we explored when different emotion regulation strategies were used within the course of an emotional episode in daily life. Second, we investigated the association between the temporal deployment of strategies and negative emotional experience. We conducted a daily diary study in which participants (N = 74) drew an intensity profile depicting the temporal unfolding of their negative emotional experience across daily events (N = 480), and mapped their usage of emotion regulation strategies onto this intensity profile. Strategies varied in their temporal deployment, with suppression and rumination occurring more at the beginning of the episode, and reappraisal and distraction occurring more toward the end of the episode. Strategies also varied in their association with negative emotion: rumination was positively associated with negative emotion, and reappraisal and distraction were negatively associated with negative emotion. Finally, both rumination and reappraisal interacted with time to predict negative emotional experience. Rumination was more strongly positively associated with negative emotions at the end of the episode than the beginning, but reappraisal was more strongly negatively associated with negative emotion at the beginning of the episode than the end. These findings highlight the importance of accounting for timing in the study of emotion regulation, as well as the necessity of studying these temporal processes in daily life.

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