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Emotion-regulation choice.

Psychological Science 2011 November
Despite centuries of speculation about how to manage negative emotions, little is actually known about which emotion-regulation strategies people choose to use when confronted with negative situations of varying intensity. On the basis of a new process conception of emotion regulation, we hypothesized that in low-intensity negative situations, people would show a relative preference to choose to regulate emotions by engagement reappraisal, which allows emotional processing. However, we expected people in high-intensity negative situations to show a relative preference to choose to regulate emotions by disengagement distraction, which blocks emotional processing at an early stage before it gathers force. In three experiments, we created emotional contexts that varied in intensity, using either emotional pictures (Experiments 1 and 2) or unpredictable electric stimulation (Experiment 3). In response to these emotional contexts, participants chose between using either reappraisal or distraction as an emotion-regulation strategy. Results in all experiments supported our hypothesis. This pattern in the choice of emotion-regulation strategies has important implications for the understanding of healthy adaptation.

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