Down-Regulation of Love Feelings After a Romantic Break-Up: Self-Report and Electrophysiological Data

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Abstract

Because remaining love feelings for an ex-partner are negatively associated with recovery from a romantic break-up, it may be helpful to decrease those love feelings. Love regulation is the use of behavioral or cognitive strategies to change the intensity of current feelings of romantic love. This study evaluated three regulation strategies: (1) negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, (2) reappraisal of love feelings, and (3) distraction. It was tested how these regulation strategies change love feelings for the ex-partner, valence of affect, and motivated attention for the ex-partner. Participants who were upset about a romantic break-up performed these regulation strategies before passively viewing a picture of their ex-partner, during which their electroencephalogram was recorded. Negative reappraisal decreased love feelings and made participants feel more unpleasant. Love reappraisal did not change how in love or pleasant/unpleasant participants felt. Distraction did not change love feelings but made participants feel more pleasant. This suggests that in the context of a romantic break-up, negative reappraisal is an effective love down-regulation strategy, whereas distraction is an effective positive emotion up-regulation strategy. Furthermore, all three strategies decreased motivated attention for the ex-partner, as indicated by a reduced amplitude of the late positive potential. This reduced motivated attention for the ex-partner could make it easier to deal with encounters of (reminders of) the ex-partner. Love regulation is a promising phenomenon with important everyday life and clinical implications.

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