Publication Date

2012-04-28

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2012-04-28

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2011-12-07

First Committee Member

Matthias Siemer

Second Committee Member

Craig D. Marker

Third Committee Member

Bonnie E. Levin

Abstract

Individuals regulate their emotional experiences on a daily basis, and cognitive reappraisal is one particularly adaptive way to do so. Some evidence suggests that online cognitive reappraisal, which occurs as an emotion-triggering event is unfolding, is also an effective strategy. Several studies have proposed that executive control processes such as working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility carry important implications for emotion regulation. The current study sought to better understand the relationship cognitive reappraisal and one of these executive control processes, cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, this study investigated how flexible processing of affective material, or affective flexibility, was associated with cognitive reappraisal. Participants completed tasks assessing cognitive flexibility, affective flexibility, and reappraisal effectiveness, as well as self-report measures which assessed emotional reactivity, symptoms of depression, and emotional experiences during the reappraisal task. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either antecedent-focused or online reappraisal instructions during the reappraisal task. Surprisingly, results showed that affective flexibility was unrelated to cognitive flexibility. However, a specific component of affective flexibility, assessing switching of mental sets away from an affective mental set and toward a non-affective mental set, predicted emotion regulation outcomes, specifically when participants were categorizing negative images. This relationship remained after controlling for general cognitive flexibility, neuroticism, and depressive symptomatology. Contrary to hypotheses, the timing of reappraisal did not moderate this relationship, suggesting that affective flexibility is equally important for both antecedent-focused and online reappraisal. Implications of these findings and future directions are discussed.

Keywords

emotion regulation; reappraisal; cognitive flexibility; affective flexibility

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