The Effect of Emotion Stimulus Intensity on the selection and Implementation of Distraction and Reappraisal as Emotion Regulation Strategies
Emotion regulation is an important coping mechanism for handling emotional situations and stimuli in day-to-day life. More effective emotion regulation is linked to better mental and physical health. The present study investigated the effects that the intensity of emotional stimuli may play in influencing which emotion regulation strategy people choose, and the impact of that choice on how emotional stimuli are attended, experienced, and remembered. Participants were asked to view a series of high and low intensity negatively valenced pictures. Prior to each picture, participants were instructed to view the picture naturally or to use distraction or reappraisal to reduce their emotional response to the picture. In a second phase, participants were asked to choose to use either distraction or reappraisal when viewing a second series of pictures. While participants viewed the pictures, eye-tracking quantified the amount of time that participants spent viewing the high emotion area of each picture while corrugator, skin conductance, and ratings of picture valence and arousal were obtained. At the completion of the study, memory for picture details was assessed. Overall, results of the current study revealed that when distraction was chosen as the strategy for regulating emotional responses to high intensity negative pictures, the negative pictures were perceived as more negative (ratings data), experienced as more arousing (skin conductance data), and remembered less accurately (memory data). The results also replicated the findings of Sheppes et al. (2011) indicating that participants chose the strategy of distraction significantly more often than reappraisal when viewing high intensity pictures. The current results, together with those of Sheppes et al. (2011), suggest that distraction is the emotion regulation strategy that people choose most frequently when faced with high intensity stimuli, and that there are negative consequences of that choice. These results highlight the need for further research on the relative costs and benefits of distraction as an emotion regulation strategy. The results also suggest the need for future research to investigate other factors that may affect the probability of distraction being implemented and also to investigate possible ways to offset or reduce the negative impact of the distraction strategy.
Table of Contents
Overview -- Literature review -- Method -- Results -- Discussion -- Appendices