Engaging in adaptive emotion regulation (ER) strategies has been linked to beneficial outcomes, such as increased positive affect, greater well-being and interpersonal functioning (Gross & John, 2003). While there are numerous studies indicating the importance of engaging in emotion regulation (ER) strategies, few studies have explored factors related to regulation success - the amount of actual increase or decrease in emotion reactivity after regulation (McRae, 2013). A majority of the literature examining ER have assigned individuals to implement certain ER strategies and compare differences in reactivity within these strategies. However, there may be differences with engaging in ER strategies and the actual amount of emotion regulated. Individuals may use a strategy but not implement it successfully as intended. In particular, it is unclear what factors may allow individuals to be more successful at regulating their emotional reactivity than others (Giles et al., 2017). The purpose of this study is to examine whether emotional clarity is associated with ER success as indicated by a reduction in LPP amplitude.
Emotional clarity (EC) is a key construct of emotional intelligence, and is important for successful ER. Broadly, greater knowledge of emotions and the contexts in which they are felt may allow individuals to engage more flexibly in a wider range of ER strategies (Gross & Jazieri, 2014). Low levels of EC have been associated with worse outcomes related to affect such as depression and anxiety (Thompson et al., 2017). Despite this, the literature regarding EC and ER has been limited, with mixed findings regarding their association. Studies examining EC and self-reported cognitive reappraisal use in undergraduates (Gross & John, 2003), individuals with PTSD (Boden et al., 2012), and cannabis-users found no correlation between the two constructs (Boden et al., 2013); alternatively, a study examining the association between EC and depression through an mTurk sample found positive associations between EC and reappraisal use (Boden & Thompson, 2015). Many of these studies have used the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ; trait self-report measure) which assesses how frequently people use two ER strategies (reappraisal and suppression) but does not tap into ability or success. This may be problematic in our understanding of the relation between EC and ER because there may be a discrepancy between an individual’s self-perceived frequency of using ER strategies and their actual success in up-regulating or down-regulating emotion. Individuals with greater EC may use multiple ER strategies aside from reappraisal and suppression. Preliminary findings using a modified ERQ scale assessing an individual’s perception of regulation ability did find that people with greater EC showed greater ability to use reappraisal, but not suppression (Lai et al, 2019). Although preliminary, this is important to consider, as an individual’s ability to regulate may then be relevant in how successful they are, linking greater EC with greater ER success. Thus, further examination is necessary to examine the relation between EC and ER success using both objective and subjective measures.
Many studies that have focused on distinct ER strategies often compare reappraisal and suppression, yet these two strategies differ with regard to when they are implemented during the emotion generation process (Gross, 1998). ER may be implemented prior to the emotional response (antecedent-focused) or after an emotional response has been generated (response-focused). Because reappraisal is an antecedent-focused strategy whereas suppression is a response- focused strategy, it may be important to compare two antecedent-focused strategies and assess differences in how these strategies are associated with reductions in emotional reactivity. Of the few studies that have examined antecedent-focused strategies, the two strategies that are examined are reappraisal and distraction (Sheppes et al., 2011; 2014; Thiruchselvam et al., 2011). Distraction is considered an attentional deployment strategy, in which individuals can shift their attention to up-regulate or down-regulate their emotions. Given the numerous findings indicating the benefits of engaging in ER earlier on in the emotion generation process, further examination of other antecedent-focused strategies such as distraction may help to investigate how EC and other factors relate to the successful engagement in ER prior to the full development of an emotional response.
Self-reports of ER success may reflect an individual’s perceived ability to successfully engage in regulation strategies (e.g., trait-level) whereas lab-based paradigms may capture state-levels of physiological or self-reported changes in emotion as an indicator of successful regulation (e.g., state-level). Often self-report and objective measures do not always converge, with mixed findings in the literature regarding emotional coherence across self-report, behavioral, and physiological indices of emotional reactivity. Thus, it is important to assess whether subjective and objective measures of ER success converge, and whether lack of convergence is linked with EC. Of the many ways to assess ER objectively, electroencephalogram (EEG) methods can capture neural activity related to emotion and engagement of regulation strategies (Hajcak et al., 2006; Hajcak et al., 2010). EEG can also be used in lab-paradigms to capture neural activity tied to event-specific triggers, known as event-related potentials (ERPs).
One ERP used in understanding emotion processing is the late positive potential (LPP), which is related to attention of arousing stimuli. A unique feature of the LPP is that the magnitude does not habituate after repeated exposure to the same emotional stimuli (Codispoti et al., 2006). Studies that have examined reappraisal have found that when reappraising positive and negative emotional stimuli, the LPP amplitude is reduced compared to the passive viewing of these emotional stimuli (Hajcak & Nieuwenhuis, 2006). Thus, comparing passive viewing with regulation trials to examine changes in LPP topography and activity over time (e.g., at on-set and off-set of stimuli) may be an indication of ER success.