Publication Date

2014-05-22

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2014-05-22

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2013-05-14

First Committee Member

Matthias Siemer

Second Committee Member

Bonnie E. Levin

Third Committee Member

Jutta Joormann

Fourth Committee Member

Heather Henderson

Fifth Committee Member

Frank Penedo

Abstract

Anger is a prevalent and powerful emotion, arising when another person has thwarted a self-relevant goal or event, and increased effort is required for goal achievement. While the majority of research indicates that anger is an affective precursor to aggression, recent research implies that anger may also have beneficial consequences – at least for some people in some situations. With the negative cost of anger often being severe, and yet the potential that anger utilization can lead to enhanced performance, it is important to understand individual differences in the ability to regulate and utilize anger. To explore this area of research, this study applied the current understanding of the connection between executive functions (EF) and emotion regulation (ER) to an examination of anger and anger regulation. Cognitive ER (e.g., reappraisal) is an effective way to regulate emotions such as anger, and has been examined at the level of daily functioning. It has been demonstrated that general cognitive control is related to ER, however only minimal research has examined the role of specific aspects of EF on ER, and this has not been examined specifically in the context of anger regulation. In light of this lack of information regarding the role of EFs in anger regulation, undergraduate participants (n=101) completed behavioral and physiological measures to examine the influence of distinct components of EF (Inhibition and Shifting) on the ability to regulate induced anger and perform on a frustrating visual motor task. My results begin to establish a connection between EF and anger regulation. This relationship is complex but it is identified through three main findings, 1) biased attention (vigilance) to anger can affect ER; improving it under some circumstances, diminishing it in others, 2) a subset of Shifting and Inhibition results support the existence of a role of cognitive ER strategies in anger regulation, 3) EF with happy stimuli is associated with lower self-report anger, but worse performance on a frustrating task. Overall, these findings indicate a potentially important role of EF in emotion regulation, but highlight the complexity of this relationship. They provide a refined focus for future studies. Furthermore, this study has important implications for identifying neural components that promote successful utilization, as well as for understanding neurological deficits associated with an inability to regulate anger, a common sequela of traumatic brain injury (TBI). With this information I hope to increase our ability to identify, prevent, and treat the detrimental emotional disturbances caused by TBI in military personnel and athletes.

Keywords

emotion regulation; anger; executive function; cognition; reappraisal

Share

COinS