Cognitive Reappraisal and Acceptance: Effects on Emotion, Physiology, and Perceived Cognitive Costs

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Two emotion regulation strategies—cognitive reappraisal and acceptance—are both associated with beneficial psychological health outcomes over time. However, it remains unclear whether these 2 strategies are associated with differential consequences for emotion, physiology, or perceived cognitive costs in the short-term. The present study used a within-subjects design to examine the effects of reappraisal (reframing one’s thoughts) and acceptance (accepting feelings without trying to control or judge them) on the subjective experience of negative emotions, positive emotions, and physiological responses during and following recovery from sad film clips shown in the laboratory. Participants also reported on perceived regulatory effort, difficulty, and success after deploying each emotion regulation strategy. In 2 samples of participants (N = 142), reappraisal (vs. acceptance) was associated with larger decreases in negative and larger increases in positive emotions, both during the film clips and recovery period. However, acceptance was perceived as less difficult to deploy than reappraisal, and was associated with a smaller dampening of skin conductance level (indicating more successful regulation) during the film clips in 1 sample. These results suggest that reappraisal and acceptance may exert differential short-term effects: Whereas reappraisal is more effective for changing subjective experiences in the short term, acceptance may be less difficult to deploy and be more effective at changing one’s physiological response. Thus, these 2 strategies may both be considered “effective” for different reasons.

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