Bottom-up and top-down emotion generation: implications for emotion regulation

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Emotion regulation plays a crucial role in adaptive functioning and mounting evidence suggests that some emotion regulation strategies are often more effective than others. However, little attention has been paid to the different ways emotions can be generated: from the ‘bottom-up’ (in response to inherently emotional perceptual properties of the stimulus) or ‘top-down’ (in response to cognitive evaluations). Based on a process priming principle, we hypothesized that mode of emotion generation would interact with subsequent emotion regulation. Specifically, we predicted that top-down emotions would be more successfully regulated by a top-down regulation strategy than bottom-up emotions. To test this hypothesis, we induced bottom-up and top-down emotions, and asked participants to decrease the negative impact of these emotions using cognitive reappraisal. We observed the predicted interaction between generation and regulation in two measures of emotional responding. As measured by self-reported affect, cognitive reappraisal was more successful on top-down generated emotions than bottom-up generated emotions. Neurally, reappraisal of bottom-up generated emotions resulted in a paradoxical increase of amygdala activity. This interaction between mode of emotion generation and subsequent regulation should be taken into account when comparing of the efficacy of different types of emotion regulation, as well as when reappraisal is used to treat different types of clinical disorders.

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