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Research Overview

Emotion Regulation Compensation After Situation Selection Failure

Situation-targeted emotion regulation (ER) strategies are used in everyday life and their inappropriate use has been linked to behavioral and mental disorders. There is also evidence suggesting that people tend to use multiple ER strategies to improve their emotional experience, which might in part reflect the attempt to compensate for unsuccessful ER outcomes. In a set of studies, Lara Vujovic, Jeffrey L. Birk, Philipp C. Opitz, and Heather L. Urry examined why and how people select situations based on the emotional potential of these situations, as well as whether people experience more negative emotions and/or use compensatory ER strategies after situation selection failure.

In Study 1, 62 Tufts undergraduates viewed negative and neutral pictures and pressed a key whenever they wished to stop viewing them, thus engaging in situation-targeted ER. The key press was successful only on 50% of the trials. Participants often used situation-targeted ER on high-arousal negative and low-arousal neutral pictures because they reported being upset or bored, respectively. However, there was no evidence for ER compensation via overt attentional deployment, and no evidence that participants felt worse after the keypress was not successful. This study was published and can be accessed here.

In Study 2, 58 Tufts undergraduates participated in a similar task as in Study 1. The results showed that negative emotion increased in light of ER failure (as reflected in heart rate deceleration), but there was no conclusive evidence for ER compensation via overt attentional deployment, nor via self-reported use of distraction, rumination, and reappraisal. In Study 3, 90 community participants were tested online via Amazon Mechanical Turk (age range 23-69). They saw either a positive, neutral, or negative picture for 500 ms, and were asked whether they wanted to see the picture again; 70% of the time, their choice would be successful, and 30% of the time in would fail (e.g., they indicated they wanted to see the picture again, but they were show a blank screen instead). The hypotheses, method, and data analysis plan for this study were preregistered and can be accessed here. The results revealed that participants show an overwhelming hedonic preference for situation selection (positive > neutral > negative). There was some evidence for compensation in light of situation selection failure. Study 2 and Study 3 are currently in preparation for publishing.

Emotional Regulation

The figure shows odds ratio of selective positive, neutral, and negative pictures in Study 3.