Thesis

Spontaneous Emotion Regulation and Cognitive Complexity

The emotion regulation (ER) strategy of reappraisal involves thinking about a particular emotion-eliciting stimulus so as to regulate one’s emotional response. In contrast to suppression, which involves “hiding” one’s response (e.g., facial expressions) to an emotionally-eliciting stimulus, reappraisal has been correlated with reduced subjective experience of negative emotion, without posing costs to memory or increasing physiological arousal. While research has linked reappraisal to positive health outcomes, to the author’s knowledge, research has not yet looked at psychological factors that relate to the propensity to spontaneously reappraise. This study investigated spontaneous emotion regulation strategies (acceptance, reappraisal, suppression) in response to a sadness-inducing film clip, and the construct of cognitive complexity (CC), or the degree to which individuals categorize a particular stimulus in multidimensional ways. The repertory grid technique (repgrid) was used to assess CC; the extent to which participants categorized a set of acquaintances across bipolar dimensions of personal meaning in functionally different ways was represented by CC scores. The hypotheses that the repgrid would induce spontaneous reappraisal, reduce spontaneous suppression, and influence nonacceptance in response to a sadness-inducing film clip were not supported. The hypotheses that a repgrid designed to elicit higher CC scores, CE-grid (compared to a repgrid designed to elicit lower CC scores, CS-grid) would induce spontaneous reappraisal, reduce spontaneous suppression, and influence nonacceptance in response to a sadness-inducing film clip were also not supported, and experimental manipulation of regprid type was not successful. The hypotheses that CC would positively correlate with reappraisal, negatively correlate with suppression, and correlate with nonacceptance were not supported. Finally, also not supported were the hypotheses that the repgrid versus control task, and the CE-grid versus CS-grid would reduce average post-film reports of sadness.

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