Genetic and Environmental Influences on Emotion Regulation: A Twin Study of Cognitive Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression

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Abstract

Previous studies have established that personality traits related to emotionality are moderately heritable. However, the relative heritability of the strategies people use to regulate emotions is unknown. The present study compared the magnitude of additive genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental influences on 2 commonly used emotion regulation strategies: cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression. In 743 twin pairs (1,486 twins), we replicated previous estimates of heritability of neuroticism (a2 = .41). Furthermore, cognitive reappraisal was significantly less heritable and more influenced by nonshared environment (a2 = .20; e2 = .80) than either neuroticism or suppression (a2 = .35; e2 = .65), another emotion regulation strategy. Finally, Cholesky decomposition modeling suggested that while there were common genetic and environmental influences on neuroticism, reappraisal and suppression, there were also significant nonshared environmental influences common between reappraisal and adaptive emotional functioning after controlling for neuroticism and suppression. These findings highlight that different aspects of emotional processing, even the use of different emotion regulation strategies, are differentially heritable. The importance of the nonshared environmental influences specific to reappraisal and adaptive emotional functioning speaks to the potential impact of social context, social partners, and psychosocial interventions on reappraisal habits.

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