Chapter 14 – Emotion Regulation

Which Emotion Strategies Work Best?

Let’s talk about a meta-analysis that compared the three broad categories of emotion regulation (Table 4). Across the emotion outcomes, attentional deployment was not an effective regulation strategy because it did not alter subjective feelings, physiological measures, or behavioral measures. Cognitive change effectively regulated subjective feelings and behavioral expressions, but not physiological measures of emotion. Response modulation was only effective in regulating behavioral expressions of emotion. Response Modulation resulted in changing physiological measures but in the opposite direction. So, if response modulation was supposed to reduce physiological arousal, it actually increased physiological arousal.

Table 4
Impact of Three Emotion Regulation Strategies across Three Emotion Outcomes (Webb et al., 2012)

A table showing an emotion regulation strategy, and 3 emotion outcomes (Self-reported Subjective Feelings, Physiological Measures,
Behavioral Measures) for that strategy.
Emotion Regulation Strategy Self-reported Subjective Feelings Physiological Measures Behavioral Measures
Attentional Deployment NS NS NS
Cognitive Change d = .45
NS d = .55
Response Modulation NS d = -.19
Small, negative
d = .90

Note. + Cohen’s d indicates the emotion regulation strategy successfully increased or decreased emotional outcome in expected direction.

– Cohen’s d indicates emotion regulation strategy did not result in predicted emotion outcome.  For instance, if ER strategy was meant to increase anger, a – Cohen’s d would indicate that the strategy did not increase anger – it either decreased anger or resulted in no change.

Adapted from “Dealing with Feeling: A Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Strategies Derived from the Process Model of Emotion Regulation,” by T.L. Webb, E. Miles, and P. Sheeran, 2012, Psychological Bulletin138(4), p. 791 ( Copyright 2012 by the American Psychological Association.


Finally, across all emotion outcomes, cognitive change was significantly more effective in altering the emotion outcomes compared to attention deployment and response modulation. Response modulation was more effective than attentional deployment.

Researchers also compared ER strategies within each category.  For attention deployment, distraction effectively regulated emotions (d =.27 ) whereas concentration was ineffective in regulating emotions (d = -.26).  Interestingly, both positive distraction and neutral distraction were effective in regulating emotions and were not significantly different from each other.  This means that distracting oneself by thinking about something positive or neutral has the same impact on our emotional experiences.


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