Reappraisal and distraction emotion regulation strategies are associated with distinct patterns of visual attention and differing levels of cognitive demand

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Abstract

Multiple emotion regulation strategies have been identified and found to differ in their effec- tiveness at decreasing negative emotions. One reason for this might be that individual strat- egies are associated with differing levels of cognitive demand and require distinct patterns of visual attention to achieve their effects. In the current study, we tested this hypothesis in a sample of psychiatrically healthy participants (n = 25) who attempted to down-regulate neg- ative emotion to photographs from the International Affective Picture System using cognitive reappraisal or distraction. Eye movements, pupil dilation, and subjective reports of negative emotionality were obtained for reappraisal, distraction, unpleasant passive viewing, and neutral passive viewing conditions. Behavioral results indicated that reappraisal and distrac- tion successfully decreased self-reported negative affect relative to unpleasant passive viewing. Successful down regulation of negative affect was associated with different pat- terns of visual attention across regulation strategies. During reappraisal, there was an initial increase in dwell time to arousing scene regions and a subsequent shift away from these regions during later portions of the trial, whereas distraction was associated with reduced total dwell time to arousing interest areas throughout the entire stimulus presentation. Pupil dilation was greater for reappraisal than distraction or unpleasant passive viewing, suggest- ing that reappraisal may recruit more effortful cognitive control processes. Furthermore, greater decreases in self-reported negative emotion were associated with a lower proportion of dwell time within arousing areas of interest. These findings suggest that different emotion regulation strategies necessitate different patterns of visual attention to be effective and that individual differences in visual attention predict the extent to which individuals can success- fully decrease negative emotion using reappraisal and distraction.

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Strauss, G. P., Ossenfort, K. L., & Whearty, K. M. (2016). Reappraisal and distraction emotion regulation strategies are associated with distinct patterns of visual attention and differing levels of cognitive demand. PLoS ONE, 11(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0162290

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