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Research Overview

The Role of Emotion Regulation in Risk and Resilience

In a series of studies led by Dr. Cavanagh, we are exploring the role of emotion regulation in risk for psychopathology and resilience in the face of life stress. We are currently completing the first of these studies, which examines how healthy young adults regulate their emotions, and whether performance on emotion tasks in the laboratory can predict levels of depressive symptoms, anxiety, and subjective well-being a month following the experiment.

Up above are two example stimuli from one of the emotion regulation tasks, in which participants are asked to use cognitive reappraisal (CR) to change their emotions. CR refers to changing one's interpretation of an emotion-triggering event so as to alter its emotional impact. In this case, they use CR to increase their emotional reaction, decrease their emotional reaction, or simply view the photographs. As they do so, we direct their gaze to areas of the photos that are either emotionally arousing or non-arousing. This allows us to isolate two different emotion-regulatory processes involving changes in attention versus changes in thinking (see Isolating Emotion-Regulatory Processes below). The photo of laughing children on the left was taken by T_Lo. The photo of the sad family on the right was taken by Mikhail Evstafiev.

In the second study, we are examining emotion regulation in people with remitted recurrent depression who recently experienced an episode of depression and in people who have never been depressed. We will follow these participants over the course of a year to explore whether performance on emotion tasks in the lab can predict whether people relapse, recover, or remain never depressed. At the conclusion of this study, participants from each of these groups (Relapsed, Recovered, Never Depressed) will be recruited for a brain imaging study that will investigate whether these groups differ in brain activity while attempting to change their emotional states. Collectively, these studies will inform our understanding of the nature of risk for depression and factors related to resilience, which could inform future therapeutic avenues. These studies have been funded by a 2009 Young Investigator Award for Dr. Urry from the National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression and a Mellon Faculty Research Award from Tufts University.