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