Chapter 14 – Emotion Regulation

Suppressing and Reappraising Positive Emotions

Most of the studies reviewed take a hedonic perspective – viewing people’s goal as reducing negative emotions and increasing positive emotions. Cognitive reappraisal does appear to achieve this goal, while suppression either does not change emotion experience or increases negative and reduces positive emotions. More recent work has investigated the effects of suppressing positive emotions and reappraising positive experiences. In one study (Lalot et al., 2014) participants watched four film clips meant to elicit positive emotions. Before the clip, they were given regulation instructions. While watching the film, participants were instructed to suppress emotions, reappraise from the perspective of an observer instead of the perspective of the character, or simply to watch (control). Figure 14 shows the findings for self-reported valence, measured on a bipolar scale from 0 = negative emotion, 300 = neutral, to 600 = positive emotion. Results showed that reappraisal reduced felt positive emotions compared to the suppression and control groups. The suppression and control groups did not differ in self-reported valence, supporting prior work showing suppression doesn’t always affect our self-reported emotion.

 

Figure 14
Impact of Type of Regulation on Self-Reported Valence
A graph with three bars. a bar for every type of regulation (suppression, control, reappraisal. x axis). The three types of regulation are graphed for Valence Ratings (y axis)
Suppression Valence Rating ~ 480 Control Valence Rating ~ 475 Reappraisal Valence Rating ~ 410

Adapted from “Mindful Regulation of Positive Emotions: A Comparison with Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression” by F. Lalot, S. Delplanque, and D. Sander, 2014, Frontiers in Psychology5(243), p. 5 (https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00243).  Copyrighted 2014 by the Authors and Open Access.

 

While participants watched the film, researchers also coded for the presence of two action units– AU12 (lip corner puller) and AU6 (cheek raiser), both components of the Dichenne smile.  Figures 15 and 16 display the results for each AU.  Overall, all three regulation strategies were significantly different. Suppression resulted in less expression change, while control resulted in the most.

 

Figure 15
Influence of Regulation Strategy on Presence of AU12 Lip Corner Puller

Three bar graphs, one for each type of regulation (suppression, reappraisal, control. x axis). The types of regulation are graphed for changes in presence of AU 12 (y axis), all of which resulting in a negative change.
Suppression Change in presence of AU 12: -0.625 Reappraisal Change in presence of AU 12: -0.4 Control Change in presence of AU 12: -0.21

Adapted from “Mindful Regulation of Positive Emotions: A Comparison with Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression” by F. Lalot, S. Delplanque, and D. Sander, 2014, Frontiers in Psychology5(243), p. 6 (https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00243).  Copyrighted 2014 by the Authors and Open Access.

 

Figure 16

Influence of Regulation Strategy on Presence of AU6 Cheek Raiser

Three bar graphs, one for each type of regulation (suppression, reappraisal, control. x axis). The types of regulation are graphed for changes in presence of AU 6 (y axis).
Supression Change in Presence of AU 6: 0.23 Reappraisal Change in Presence of AU 6: 0.35 Control Change in Presence of AU 6: 0.4

Adapted from “Mindful Regulation of Positive Emotions: A Comparison with Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression” by F. Lalot, S. Delplanque, and D. Sander, 2014, Frontiers in Psychology5(243), p. 6 (https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00243).  Copyrighted 2014 by the Authors and Open Access.

 

Most of the work on increasing positive emotions focuses on reappraising negative emotion experiences in a neutral or positive light.  But some studies have started investigating other ways of increasing positive emotions, such as amplifying arousal or positive valence.  Helping people to up-regulate positive emotions might be one intervention for certain psychological diagnoses.  For a review of using the process model of emotion to increase positive emotions, please read this review article by Quoidbach et al (2015).

Suppression may be a strategy that individuals diagnosed with depression use more frequently.  Some initial work by Gross and colleagues (Ehring et al., 2010) has found that during a sad film clip, recovered-depressed individuals self-reported that they spontaneously suppressed more during a sad film clip compared to control participants.   There was not a difference in reappraisal between the two groups. This indicates that in a sad situation, depressed individuals might automatically fall back on suppression as a strategy to down-regulate their negative emotions.  But, when asked instructed to suppress or reappraise during another sad film clip, recovered-depressed and control participants did not show differences in their self-reported emotions after regulating. In fact, both groups reported fewer negative emotions when reappraising versus suppressing.  This finding tells us that suppression doesn’t result in more negative emotions for depressed individuals.  Another study (Flynn et al., 2010) found that expressive suppression was associated with depression for men, but not for women (this means gender moderates the relationship between suppression and depression).  This is interesting because men tend to suppress more than women, but women report more depression and negative affect than men.  So, for men, suppression is a good predictor of a depression diagnosis.  Interestingly, the Type D (“distressed”) personality trait describes an individual who has a tendency to chronically suppress their negative emotions.  One study (Denollet, 2005) found that approximately 55% of hypertension (HYT) and 28% of congestive heart disease (CHF) patients were high on Type D, significantly higher than the 22% of the control participants with the Type D personality trait (see Figure 17).  In another study (Schiffer et al., 2005), participants diagnosed with CHF were recruited.  Compared to CHF patients low on Type D, CHF high on Type D exhibited poorer health,  and more symptoms of depression.  In fact, Type D was a better predictor of health status beyond age, gender, severity of CHF, and cause of CHF.

Figure 17
Percentage of Participant Groups who Score High on Type D

Three bar graphs on the x axis. They are labeled: control, CHD, HYPT. The Y axis is labeled: Type D (%). The space between the left (control) and middle (CHD) bar graphs reads: p=.001. The space between the left and the right bar graphs on the x axis reads: p<.0001
Control, Type D (%): 21
CHD, Type D (%): 28
HYPT, Type D(%): 54

Reproduced from “DS14: Standard Assessment of Negative Affectivity, Social Inhibition, and Type D Personality” by J. Denollet, Psychosomatic Medicine67(1), p. 93   (https:/doi.org/ 10.1097/01.psy.0000149256.81953.49). Copyright 2005 by the American Psychosomatic Society.

 

Amplification

The research on amplification is not as extensive as the work on suppression and cognitive reappraisal.  Whether amplifying our negative emotions has a good or bad outcome depends on 1) the valence of the emotion 2) how much of the emotion we are amplifying and 3) the situation in which we are amplifying.  Recall that some work by June Gruber and colleagues (Gruber et al., 2011) suggests that increasing our positive emotions is only good up to a point.  Too much positive emotion could be detrimental because we are not aware of negative eliciting events in our surroundings, because the positive emotions are not appropriate for the situation, or because too much positive emotion might be symptomatic of mania and other disorders. (link  back to this webpage here).  Similarly, amplifying negative emotion might work when preparing for a soccer game, but people who continuously amplifying their anger experience physical health issues such as cardiovascular disease.

Watch the video “How a Chair Revealed the Type A Video” to learn how cardiologist Friedman and Rosenman discovered the Type A trait from their waiting room chairs.

 

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