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Stanford psychophysiology lab research on emotion regulation

Last week I talked about coming across Srivastava and colleagues' paper (Srivastava, Tamir et al. 2009 - see below) on the social costs of emotional suppression.  This led me to Srivastava's lab at the University of Oregon.  It's then an easy jump to James Gross's Psychophysiology lab at Stanford University (see below).  The Stanford lab is a hive of activity with research projects in a whole series of fascinating areas  .  A key focus is work on emotion regulation - its neural basis, emotional & social consequences, and relationship with personality.  Their "process model of emotion regulation" suggests that " ... emotion may be regulated at five points in the emotion generative process: (1) selection of the situation, (2) modification of the situation, (3) deployment of attention, (4) change of cognitions, and (5) modulation of experiential, behavioral, or physiological responses."

There are well over 100 full text research papers available for download from the Stanford website.  Examples (see abstracts further down this page) of the many on emotion regulation include a major paper (Gross and John 2003) highlighting the damage caused by emotion suppression and the wide-ranging benefits of emotion reappraisal.  This paper also includes details of the "Emotion regulation questionnaire", which has now been translated into over 20 languages, and is freely downloadable in all of them (see below)!  Another example is a paper giving further detail of these costs and benefits (John and Gross 2004), including providing new evidence for " ... a normative shift toward an increasingly healthy emotion regulation profile during adulthood (i.e., increases in the use of reappraisal and decreases in the use of suppression)." and a further, more recent, paper demonstrating brain changes that support the hypothesis that emotion reappraisal acts earlier in the emotion generation cycle than suppression does - with many benefits from this "stitch in time" focus (Goldin, McRae et al. 2008).  This work makes me review and dust off my use of cognitive restructuring.  The recent research (Hofmann, Heering et al. 2009) contrasting the short term effects of reappraisal with acceptance and suppression also supports the value of reappraisal.  It gives "cognitive restructuring" a new lease of life for me when I view this therapeutic intervention alongside the newer data on Gross's emotion reappraisal (this post), Gollwitzer's implementation intentions, and Trope's construal level theory.  For more practical suggestions about this, see next week's blog posting on "Reappraising reappraisal".

"Emotion regulation questionnaire" (in over 20 language translations)  and "scoring & background information" sheet.

Gross, J.  Stanford Psychophysiology Lab at http://psychology.stanford.edu/~psyphy/index.html  Accessed on 24 May 2009.

Srivastava, S., M. Tamir, et al. (2009). "The social costs of emotional suppression: A prospective study of the transition to college." J Pers Soc Psychol 96(4): 883-97.  [PubMed]  [Free Full Text]
There is growing interest in understanding how emotion regulation affects adaptation. The present study examined expressive suppression (which involves inhibiting the overt expression of emotion) and how it affects a critical domain of adaptation, social functioning. This investigation focused on the transition to college, a time that presents a variety of emotional and social challenges. Analyses focused on 2 components of suppression: a stable component, representing individual differences expressed both before and after the transition, and a dynamic component, representing variance specific to the new college context. Both components of suppression predicted lower social support, less closeness to others, and lower social satisfaction. These findings were robustly corroborated across weekly experience reports, self-reports, and peer reports and are consistent with a theoretical framework that defines emotion regulation as a dynamic process shaped by both stable person factors and environmental demands.

Gross, J. J. and O. P. John (2003). "Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: implications for affect, relationships, and well-being." J Pers Soc Psychol 85(2): 348-62.  [PubMed]  [Free Full Text]  
Five studies tested two general hypotheses: Individuals differ in their use of emotion regulation strategies such as reappraisal and suppression, and these individual differences have implications for affect, well-being, and social relationships. Study 1 presents new measures of the habitual use of reappraisal and suppression. Study 2 examines convergent and discriminant validity. Study 3 shows that reappraisers experience and express greater positive emotion and lesser negative emotion, whereas suppressors experience and express lesser positive emotion, yet experience greater negative emotion. Study 4 indicates that using reappraisal is associated with better interpersonal functioning, whereas using suppression is associated with worse interpersonal functioning. Study 5 shows that using reappraisal is related positively to well-being, whereas using suppression is related negatively.

John, O. P. and J. J. Gross (2004). "Healthy and unhealthy emotion regulation: personality processes, individual differences, and life span development." J Pers 72(6): 1301-33.  [PubMed]  [Free Full Text]  
Individuals regulate their emotions in a wide variety of ways. Are some forms of emotion regulation healthier than others? We focus on two commonly used emotion regulation strategies: reappraisal (changing the way one thinks about a potentially emotion-eliciting event) and suppression (changing the way one responds behaviorally to an emotion-eliciting event). In the first section, we review experimental findings showing that reappraisal has a healthier profile of short-term affective, cognitive, and social consequences than suppression. In the second section, we review individual-difference findings, which show that using reappraisal to regulate emotions is associated with healthier patterns of affect, social functioning, and well-being than is using suppression. In the third section, we consider issues in the development of reappraisal and suppression and provide new evidence for a normative shift toward an increasingly healthy emotion regulation profile during adulthood (i.e., increases in the use of reappraisal and decreases in the use of suppression).

Goldin, P. R., K. McRae, et al. (2008). "The neural bases of emotion regulation: reappraisal and suppression of negative emotion." Biol Psychiatry 63(6): 577-86.  [PubMed]  [Free Full Text
BACKGROUND: Emotion regulation strategies are thought to differ in when and how they influence the emotion-generative process. However, no study to date has directly probed the neural bases of two contrasting (e.g., cognitive versus behavioral) emotion regulation strategies. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine cognitive reappraisal (a cognitive strategy thought to have its impact early in the emotion-generative process) and expressive suppression (a behavioral strategy thought to have its impact later in the emotion-generative process). METHODS: Seventeen women viewed 15 sec neutral and negative emotion-eliciting films under four conditions--watch-neutral, watch-negative, reappraise-negative, and suppress-negative--while providing emotion experience ratings and having their facial expressions videotaped. RESULTS: Reappraisal resulted in early (0-4.5 sec) prefrontal cortex (PFC) responses, decreased negative emotion experience, and decreased amygdala and insular responses. Suppression produced late (10.5-15 sec) PFC responses, decreased negative emotion behavior and experience, but increased amygdala and insular responses. CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate the differential efficacy of reappraisal and suppression on emotional experience, facial behavior, and neural response and highlight intriguing differences in the temporal dynamics of these two emotion regulation strategies.

Hofmann, S. G., S. Heering, et al. (2009). "How to handle anxiety: The effects of reappraisal, acceptance, and suppression strategies on anxious arousal." Behaviour Research and Therapy 47(5): 389-394.  [Abstract/Full Text]
It has been suggested that reappraisal strategies are more effective than suppression strategies for regulating emotions. Recently, proponents of the acceptance-based behavior therapy movement have further emphasized the importance of acceptance-based emotion regulation techniques. In order to directly compare these different emotion regulation strategies, 202 volunteers were asked to give an impromptu speech in front of a video camera. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The Reappraisal group was instructed to regulate their anxious arousal by reappraising the situation; the Suppression group was asked to suppress their anxious behaviors; and the Acceptance group was instructed to accept their anxiety. As expected, the Suppression group showed a greater increase in heart rate from baseline than the Reappraisal and Acceptance groups. Moreover, the Suppression group reported more anxiety than the Reappraisal group. However, the Acceptance and Suppression groups did not differ in their subjective anxiety response. These results suggest that both reappraising and accepting anxiety is more effective for moderating the physiological arousal than suppressing anxiety. However, reappraising is more effective for moderating the subjective feeling of anxiety than attempts to suppress or accept it.


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