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Cognitive mechanisms underlying emotion regulation

By Rosemary King


Traditional theories of emotion have emphasised the automatic and unconscious nature of emotion generation and hence emotion regulation via antecedent and response focused strategies. Response strategies either inhibit the\ud expression of an emotional response or modulate it via cognitive reappraisal. Antecedent strategies involve avoidance behaviour i. e. avoiding situations in which\ud the emotional response is likely to occur. Recent evidence has now demonstrated, however, that the cognitive and emotional systems are highly interactive and that\ud conscious attention may be necessary to generate emotion. Conscious attention can be controlled via executive functioning and the requirements of immediate goals.\ud This evidence opens up the possibility of regulating emotions by executive functioning on-line i. e. as they occur.\ud \ud The aim of this thesis was to investigate on-going emotion generation and the mechanisms and processes that regulate it. A series of experiments manipulated cognitive functioning via direct instructions to Feel and Not Feel emotional responses to negative and neutral pictures and, indirectly, by manipulating cognitive resources available for processing the pictures. Participants in the latter experiments were required to maintain visual attention to the stimuli in order to rate the strength of their emotional responses to them whilst simultaneously holding in mind pictures or words requiring a subsequent same-different decision to a following item. It was believed that depleting cognitive resources could attenuate emotional responses.\ud \ud Results from the experiments showed that emotional responses can be attenuated by depleting cognitive resources available for processing emotional stimuli; an explanation that can explain both direct and indirect manipulations of cognitive functioning. It was not clear, however, whether emotion generation is not automatic or whether automatic processing requires some input from cognitive resources. Further research is also required to discover whether the cognitive resources required to generate emotions involve executive functioning for visual\ud attentional processing, to maintain conscious attention for higher order processing, or for low level cognitive appraisals

Publisher: Institute of Psychological Sciences (Leeds)
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:

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