When expanding training from working memory to emotional working memory: not only improving explicit emotion regulation but also implicit negative control for anxious individuals

Dong-Ni Pan, Delhii Hoid, Xiao-Bo Wang, Zhuo Jia, Xuebing Li
Psychological Medicine 2020 June 30, : 1-10

BACKGROUND: The effect of working memory training (WM-T) has been found to transfer to emotional wellbeing, despite some debate on whether an affective component in training is necessary to achieve specific emotion-related benefits. These novel cognitive trainings have not yet been tested in highly anxious individuals, who have deficits in implicit and explicit emotional regulation and should be the potential beneficiaries of these trainings.

METHODS: We designed two types of mobile phone-based training applications: (1) WMT and (2) an emotional working memory training (EWM-T) that comprised negative face distraction. Ninety-eight participants (33, WM-T; 35, EWM-T; 30, Control group) with high trait anxiety completed the 21-day intervention or placebo program and conducted pre- and post-test procedures, including questionnaires, emotional regulation and emotional Stroop tasks alongside electroencephalogram recording. Late positive potential (LPP) in emotion regulation task and P3 in the emotional Stroop task were adopted as neutral indicators for the explicit and implicit affective regulation/control processing.

RESULTS: Those who had received training (WM-T and EWM-T) showed enhanced explicit regulation (indexed by reduced LPP during reappraisal) compared with the control. Besides, individuals in EWM-T showed reduced behavioral attention bias and a decline of P3 in response to negative faces in an emotional Stroop task. The altered neural indicators were correlated with corresponding behavior indexes that contributed to the anxiety alleviation.

CONCLUSIONS: The general WM-T was effective in enhancing explicit emotional regulation, while training with emotional add-in further improved implicit emotional control. (E)WM-T shows potential as a beneficial intervention for the anxiety population.

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