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Emotion

Executive Control Attenuates Emotional EffectsFor High Reappraisers Only?


Noga Cohen, Avishai Henik, and Natali Moyal Online First Publication, January 16, 2012. doi: 10.1037/a0026890

CITATION Cohen, N., Henik, A., & Moyal, N. (2012, January 16). Executive Control Attenuates Emotional EffectsFor High Reappraisers Only?. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026890

Emotion 2012, Vol. 00, No. 00, 000 000

2012 American Psychological Association 1528-3542/12/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0026890

Executive Control Attenuates Emotional EffectsFor High Reappraisers Only?


Noga Cohen, Avishai Henik, and Natali Moyal
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Irrelevant emotional information influences adaptive behavior. Previous results demonstrated that executive control may help reduce such influence. The current research studied the relationship between the tendency to use emotion regulation strategies (e.g., reappraisal and suppression) and the ability of executive control to reduce emotional interference. Our results demonstrate that negative stimuli disrupt performance in congruent flanker trials, regardless of individual tendencies to use reappraisal or suppression. In contrast, negative stimuli did not disrupt performance in incongruent trials in people who report frequent use of reappraisal. This pattern appeared both when a negative stimulus appeared before and after the flanker target and was not modulated by suppression level. We suggest that people who tend to use reappraisal have improved ability of executive control to reduce emotional effects. Keywords: executive control, reappraisal, emotional stimuli, conflict monitoring, flanker task

Emotion is an essential aspect of our life. Nonetheless, adaptive behavior depends on our ability to reduce the influence of irrelevant emotional information on behavior (Pessoa, Padmala, & Morland, 2005). Recently, there has been increasing behavioral and neuronal data showing that executive control mechanisms may be involved in attenuating emotional effects (Cohen, Henik, & Mor, 2011; Etkin, Egner, Peraza, Kandel, & Hirch, 2006). Malfunctions in the relationship between executive control and emotion were found in people suffering from different psychopathologies such as depression (Johnstone, van Reekum, Urry, Kalin, & Davidson, 2007; for review see Rogers et al., 2004) and anxiety (Bishop, Duncan, Brett, & Lawrence, 2004; Etkin, Prater, Hoeft, Menon, & Schatzberg, 2010). In the present study, we tested whether frequent use of psychological processes that involve activation of executive control is associated with improved ability of executive mechanisms to reduce emotional effects. One such set of psychological processes is that involved in emotion regulation strategies (e.g., reappraisal and suppression) (Goldin, McRae, Ramel, & Gross, 2008; Kim & Hamann, 2007; Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002; Ochsner et al., 2004). Examining the relationships between emotion regulation strategies and the ability of executive control to attenuate emotion may lead to better therapeutic interventions for people suffering from emotion regulation deficits.

Emotion Regulation Strategies


Two main emotion regulation strategies are suppression and reappraisal. Suppression is considered to be a response-focused strategy in which a person inhibits a display of emotions. Reappraisal is considered to be an internal-focused strategy in which a person changes the meaning of a stimulus (Gross, 1998). People who tend to use a reappraisal strategy in daily life, as assessed by the reappraisal factor in the emotion regulation questionnaire (ERQ: Gross & John, 2003), were found to experience and express more positive emotion and less negative emotion. They were also more likely to share their emotions with others and have closer relationships with friends, fewer depressive symptoms, and relatively high self-esteem and life satisfaction. Several studies examined the effects of reappraisal on emotional situations. Mauss and colleagues found that people who report frequent use of reappraisal respond more adaptively to an emotionally evocative event (Mauss, Cook, Cheng, & Gross, 2007). In addition, priming of reappraisal-related words was found to reduce physiological response to stressful situations (Williams, Bargh, Nocera, & Gray, 2009). People who tend to use suppression, on the other hand, were found to have less positive relations with others, and their relationships were less emotionally close. They also had more depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, and were less satisfied with life (Berkman & Lieberman, 2009; Gross & John, 2003). Studies that examined the effects of suppression on emotional situations usually found that participants who are instructed to suppress their emotional reactions show fewer behavioral signs and less experience of emotions. However, their physiological response during the emotional situations is increased compared to participants who are instructed to use other emotion regulation strategies (Goldin et al., 2008; for review see Gross, 2002). Moreover, recent studies found that suppression is related to memory impairment (Dillon, Ritchey, Johnson, & LaBar, 2007; Richards & Gross, 2006). Taken together, suppression is considered to be a less adaptive strategy
1

Noga Cohen, Avishai Henik, and Natali Moyal, Department of Psychology and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel. We thank Prof. Heather Urry and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous versions of this article. Thanks are also due to Dr. Hadas Okon-Singer, Limor Lichtenstein-Vidne, Daniela Aisenberg, and Desiree Meloul for their ideas, comments, and useful input on this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Noga Cohen, Department of Psychology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, P.O.B. 653, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel. E-mail: nogac@bgu.ac.il

COHEN, HENIK, AND MOYAL

than reappraisal as it impairs quality of life (see Koole, 2009 for review; Sheppes & Gross, 2011 for another perspective).

The Relationship Between Executive Control and Emotion


One of the evidences for involvement of executive processes in attenuating emotional response comes from the studies of Etkin and colleagues (Etkin, Egner, Peraza, Kandel, & Hirsch, 2006; Etkin, Prater, Hoeft, Menon, & Schatzberg, 2010). The authors used a Stroop-like emotional conflict task to examine effects of an emotional distracter on an emotional target. They demonstrated that reaction times (RTs) for incongruent emotional stimuli (e.g., when a happy face is presented with the word fear) were slower than RTs for congruent stimuli (e.g., a happy face with the word happy). More importantly, they found a conflict adaptation effect in which the response for an incongruent trial attenuated the response of the following incongruent trial. This decrease in emotional conflict was attributed to a connection between brain areas that are known to be related to conflict monitoring (e.g., the rostral cingulate cortex) and emotional brain areas (e.g., the amygdala). The authors suggested that a conflict monitoring process can attenuate emotional response. Recently, we showed that a conflict monitoring process that is purely cognitive (namely, does not include any affective properties) plays a role in decreasing the behavioral effects caused by irrelevant emotional information (Cohen et al., 2011). When presenting irrelevant emotional and neutral stimuli before a simple cognitive task, researchers usually find slower RTs in trials that were preceded by emotional stimuli compared to trials preceded by neutral stimuli (Buodo, Sarlo, & Palomba, 2002; Hartikainen, Ogawa, & Knight, 2000). This effect is termed emotional interference and is attributed to preferential processing of emotional information as part of an adaptive response (LeDoux, 1995). By using a modified flanker task (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974), we found that emotional interference is decreased following activation of executive control. Specifically, participants underwent an emotional version of the attentional network test integration (Callejas, Lupianez, & Tudela, 2004) that was designed to examine the interactions between emotion and three attentional networks (i.e., alertness, orienting, and executive control; see Posner & Rothbart, 2007, for a review). An alerting cue was presented in half of the trials and was followed by either a negative or neutral picture that was task irrelevant. The pictures were presented in a valid or invalid location in relation to a following flanker task that included either a congruent ( ) or incongruent ( ) target. Participants were requested to respond to the direction of a middle arrow and ignore the two flanker arrows at each side. Incongruent trials activate conflict monitoring processes and hence can be used to measure executive control. The results revealed no interaction between emotion and the alertness network or between emotion and the orienting network. However, an interesting relationship was found between emotion and the executive network. Compared to neutral pictures, negative pictures delayed RTs to congruent targets but not to incongruent targets. Specifically, emotional interference was present in congruent trials (namely, slower RTs for congruent targets preceded by negative pictures than for congruent targets preceded by neutral pictures) and was diminished in

incongruent trials (namely, there was no difference between RTs for incongruent targets preceded by negative pictures and RTs for incongruent targets preceded by neutral pictures). These findings suggest that irrelevant emotional stimuli do not interfere with tasks that involve activation of conflict monitoring processes. Moreover, a sequential analysis showed that responding to trials containing negative stimuli was faster when the previous trial included an incongruent target than when it included a congruent target. In a further experiment, we demonstrated that an autonomic response for negative stimuli (as measured by pupillary response) for negative stimuli was attenuated when pictures were preceded by an incongruent flanker target compared to a congruent target (Cohen & Henik, 2011). Taken together, these results add to the findings of Etkin and colleagues (Etkin et al., 2006; Etkin et al., 2010) and demonstrate that when participants are engaged in conflict monitoring processes, emotional effect is diminished. Similar reduction in emotional effect was also demonstrated in studies that used cognitive load tasks (Erthal et al., 2005; OkonSinger, Tzelgov, & Henik, 2007; Pessoa, 2005; Pessoa et al., 2005; Van Dillen, Heslenfeld, & Koole, 2009; Vuilleumier, Armony, Driver, & Dolan, 2001). These studies found that under high load conditions, there is decreased activation in brain regions associated with emotion (especially the amygdala) and increased activation in executive control areas (prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex) (Hariri, Bookheimer, & Mazziotta, 2000; Liberzon et al., 2000; Mitchell et al., 2008; Pessoa et al., 2005;Van Dillen et al., 2009; Vuilleumier, 2005). In addition, increased baseline electrophysiological activity in the frontal lobe was found to be related to reduced emotional response for emotional pictures, as measured by the startle reflex phenomenon (Jackson et al., 2003). Integrating these neuronal findings with the behavioral results discussed above strengthens the notion that executive control processes may be responsible for decreasing emotional effect under conflict situations.

Links Between Emotion Regulation Strategies and the ExecutiveEmotion Relationship


Evidence for the link between emotion regulation strategies and the executive emotion relationship comes mainly from imaging studies. When participants were requested to regulate their emotions, researchers usually found stronger activation in executiverelated brain regions. Interestingly, this increased activation characterizes both reappraisal and suppression (Goldin et al., 2008; Kim & Hamann, 2007; Levesque et al., 2003; Ochsner et al., 2002; Ochsner et al., 2004). However, only during reappraisal this executive activation was associated with reduced activation in emotion-related brain regions (Goldin et al., 2008). Similar results were found during spontaneous use of reappraisal. Drabant and colleagues examined whether reappraisal tendencies modulate brain activation when participants watched negative facial expressions. They found that the tendency to use reappraisal predicted increased activation in executive regions and decreased activation in emotional regions (Drabant, McRae, Manuck, Hariri, & Gross, 2009). The tendency to use suppression did not modulate this neuronal effect. Taken together, these results suggest that brain areas that are related to executive control may be involved in both reappraisal and suppression. However, only during reappraisal this

REAPPRAISAL AND THE EXECUTIVEEMOTION LINKS

executive activation was linked to reduced activation in emotional regions (i.e., amygdala). One significant limitation of these imaging studies is that they do not provide a specific cognitive mechanism that is responsible for this neuronal effect. Moreover, it is not clear if this effect is caused by the same executive process that was found to be related to reduced emotional interference (e.g., conflict monitoring) or by other cognitive mechanisms that involve the same brain areas (such as planning, decision making, or other high cognitive functions). Hence, there is a need to directly examine the link between the tendency to use emotion regulation strategies and the executive mechanism that is responsible for decreasing the influence of irrelevant emotional information on behavior.

congruent trials by suppression levels. Additional questionnaires were also used but will not be discussed in this article.

Method
Participants. Thirty undergraduate students from BenGurion University of the Negev participated in the experiment in return for course credit. Data from one participant was excluded because of a high error rate (more than 2 SD above the mean error rate). Data from three participants was excluded because of many deviant RTs (more than 2 SD above the mean number of excluded RTs). Data from one participant was excluded because of unreliable ratings in the ERQ (extreme ratings). Hence, 25 participants (22 women) remained in the sample (the mean age was 23 years, SD 0.87). All participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision and no reported history of attention deficit disorder (ADD). Apparatus. The experiment was run on an IBM-PC computer with a 17-inch color screen monitor. E-Prime software was used for programming, presentation of stimuli, and timing operations. Responses were collected through the computer keyboard. Procedure. After signing a consent form, participants were seated in front of a computer and instructions were presented on the screen. Participants were informed that unpleasant pictures may appear, but were not given any further instruction regarding these pictures. Participants were instructed to look at the fixation cross that appeared in the middle of the screen and to respond as quickly and as accurately as possible to a flanker task. The participants task was to indicate the direction of the middle arrow appearing in a line of five arrows. Participants pressed the A key with their left index finger to indicate a middle arrow pointing to the left, and the L key with their right index finger to indicate a middle arrow pointing to the right. Before starting the task, participants completed 16 practice trials in which they received accuracy feedback. Figure 1 presents a sample trial. Each trial started with a presentation of a fixation cross for 1000 ms. Then a picture was presented for 100 ms. In half of the trials the picture was negative, and in the other half, it was neutral. A 150-ms stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) preceded the flanker target, which was presented for 2000 ms or until the participants response. In half of the trials the flanker target was congruent, in which all five arrows pointed in the same direction, and in the other half, the flanker target was incongruent, in which the middle arrow differed in direction from the other arrows. The order of the trials was randomly chosen by E-Prime software. After completing the task, participants answered questionnaires and were debriefed and thanked for their participation.

The Current Study


Is the tendency to use emotion regulation strategies in daily life related to the ability of executive control to reduce emotional interference? Following the findings discussed above, we hypothesized that the relationship between executive control and emotion may vary according to individual differences in the tendency to use emotion regulation strategies. Participants viewed negative and neutral task-irrelevant pictures, which preceded (Experiment 1) or followed (Experiment 2) a flanker target. After completing the task they reported reappraisal and suppression tendencies. Following the findings demonstrating that executive-related brain regions may be responsible for attenuating emotional response during instructed or spontaneous reappraisal (Drabant et al., 2009; Goldin et al., 2008), we predicted that the tendency to use reappraisal would be related to improved ability of executive control to reduce emotional interference. We did not have specific predictions regarding the modulation of this effect by suppression. Suppression was found to be related to increased activation in executive regions, but as opposed to reappraisal, this activation was not involved in reduced activation in emotional regions (Goldin et al., 2008). Nevertheless, it is possible that the behavioral links between executive control and emotion would be modulated by a suppression tendency.

Experiment 1
In Experiment 1, we presented negative and neutral pictures prior to a flanker task. The ERQ (Gross & John, 2003) was administered in order to assess individual suppression and reappraisal levels. We predicted that the previously reported effect demonstrating reduced emotional interference in incongruent flanker targets (Cohen et al., 2011) would be modulated by reappraisal level. We did not have specific predictions regarding modulation of this effect by suppression level. More specifically, because there is no evidence that the tendency to use reappraisal or suppression is related to general reduction in RTs following emotional stimuli, we predicted that neither reappraisal nor suppression levels would impact emotional interference in congruent trials (e.g., RTs for congruent trials that were preceded by negative stimuli would be slower than RTs for congruent trials that were preceded by neutral stimuli). Importantly, we predicted that emotional interference in incongruent trials would be smaller in people who report a high level of reappraisal. We did not have a specific prediction regarding modulation of emotional interference in in-

Figure 1. Example of a congruent trial with a negative picture.

4 Stimuli

COHEN, HENIK, AND MOYAL

Pictures. Thirty-two negative and 32 neutral pictures from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS; Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 2001) were used. Pictures were selected based on the IAPS arousal ratings (ranging from 1 not arousing to 9 highly arousing) and valence ratings (ranging from 1 very unhappy to 9 very happy). Negative pictures were selected to have extreme arousal and negative valence ratings (mean valence 1.66, mean arousal 6.42), whereas neutral pictures were selected to have neutral valence and low arousal ratings (mean valence 4.89, mean arousal 2.43). Pictures were sized to be 12.3 9.3 cm. Flanker stimuli. Target stimuli consisted of a line of five arrows, in which the middle arrow was either pointing in the same direction as the other arrows (congruent trials) or in a different direction from the other arrows (incongruent trials). Emotion regulation questionnaire. The ERQ consists of 10 statements that assess two emotion regulation strategies: reappraisal and suppression (Gross & John, 2003). Reappraisal is the ability to change the way one thinks about a situation, in order to change how one feels inside. Suppression is the ability to mask ones feelings and emotions from others. Participants are asked to rate whether they strongly agree or disagree with each statement on a scale from 1 to 7 (1 strongly disagree, 7 strongly agree). Higher scores indicate more frequent use of each strategy. Cronbachs alpha reliabilities were 0.74 for reappraisal and 0.58 for suppression in our sample. Design. The design contained two within-subject factors: target congruity (congruent, incongruent) and picture valence (negative, neutral). Reappraisal and suppression scores served as between-subjects factors. The task consisted of 320 trials (2 flanker congruities 2 flanker directions 2 picture valences 40 repetitions), which were divided into five blocks. Trials were presented in a random order for each participant.

Results and Discussion


RTs that were indicated as outliers in a histogram chart (below 200 ms or above 1000 ms) were excluded from the analysis. Mean RTs of correct responses in the various conditions and reappraisal and suppression scores were calculated. The overall mean error rate was 1.95%. No significant effects were found in the analysis of the incorrect responses, and there was no evidence for a speed accuracy trade-off. Hence, we report only the analyses pertaining to RT data of correct trials. To examine our hypotheses regarding the relationship between the tendency to use emotion regulation strategies and emotional interference in incongruent trials, we conducted multiple regression analyses. Before inserting both reappraisal and suppression as predictors into the regression analysis, we assessed the correlation between them in order to avoid multicollinearity. The correlation between reappraisal and suppression was not significant, r .31, p .14; hence, we included these two predictors in the multiple regression analyses. Two regression analyses were used with the standardized scores of reappraisal and suppression as predictors. The main analysis included emotional interference (RTs of negative minus neutral trials) in incongruent trials as the dependent variable. A second analysis in which emotional interference in congruent trials served as the dependent variable was also con-

ducted. This analysis was performed in order to verify that reappraisal and suppression do not modulate emotional interference in general, but only in incongruent trials. Results from the main regression analysis show that, as predicted, reappraisal tendency modulates emotional interference in the high-conflict condition. Increased tendency to use reappraisal significantly predicted decreased emotional interference in incongruent trials, 0.44, t 2.30, p .03 (see Table 1a). This model accounted for 19% of the variance, F(1, 22) 3.87, p .04. Importantly, this interference factor was not predicted by suppression. In addition, both reappraisal and suppression did not predict emotional interference in congruent trials (see Table 1b). To further examine the connection found between reappraisal and emotional interference in incongruent trials, we divided the sample into two groups according to the median reappraisal score (below or above 30). This resulted in two groupslow reappraisers (N 14, M 23.57, SD 4.26) and high reappraisers (N 11, M 31.73, SD 2.49). We then conducted a three-way mixed-measures ANOVA, with congruity (congruent, incongruent) and valence (negative, neutral) as within-subject factors. Reappraisal level (high, low) served as a between-subjects factor. Besides strengthening the result found in the regression analyses, this ANOVA analysis can provide data regarding general task performance and modulation of this performance by reappraisal level. Replicating previous results in the flanker task, participants were faster in congruent (when all the arrows pointed in the same direction) than in incongruent trials (when the middle arrow pointed in a different direction from the other arrows), M 445 ms, SD 45, for congruent trials and M 492 ms, SD 41, for incongruent trials, F(1, 24) 238, p .001, 2 .91. Moreover, p participants were faster in neutral trials compared to negative trials, M 472 ms, SD 44, for negative trials and M 465 ms, SD 41 for neutral trials, F(1, 24) 12, p .002, 2 .35. p Importantly, the interaction between valence and congruity was marginally significant, F(1, 24) 4, p .06, 2 .15. This p interaction revealed that negative pictures delayed RTs in the task, and this delay was larger in the congruent condition: M (RT in negative neutral trials) 10 ms than in the incongruent condition: M (RT in negative neutral trials) 4 ms. These results replicate our previous findings regarding the modulation of the emotional system in conflict situations (Cohen et al., 2011). Table 1 Emotional Interference in Incongruent and Congruent Trials as Predicted by Reappraisal and Suppression
B SE t p

1a. Emotional interference in incongruent trials Independent variable Reappraisal 5.15 2.24 .44 2.30 Suppression 1.70 2.24 .15 .76 1b. Emotional interference in congruent trials Independent variable Reappraisal .36 2.94 .03 .12 Suppression 4.10 2.94 .29 1.22 Note. Emotional interference p .05. reaction time of negative

.03 .46

.91 .24

neutral trials.

REAPPRAISAL AND THE EXECUTIVEEMOTION LINKS

Most importantly, this interaction was modulated by reappraisal level, F(1, 24) 5.44, p .03, 2 .19 (see Figure 2). Examp ination of this interaction revealed that the interaction between valence and congruity was significant in the high-reappraisers group, F(1, 10) 9.04, p .01, 2 .48. However, no interaction p was found in the low-reappraisers group, F(1, 13) 0.06, p .82, 2 .004, in which only a main effect for valence was found, F(1, p 13) 4.69, p .05, 2 .27. Further analysis of the interaction p between valence and congruity in the high-reappraisers group revealed a main effect for valence in congruent trials, F(1, 10) 11.17, p .003, 2 .69. No difference was found between p negative and neutral pictures in the incongruent trials, F(1, 10) 0.04, p .84, 2 .005. p These results show that compared to neutral stimuli, negative stimuli delayed participants responses in the congruent condition, for both high- and low reappraisers groups. Although it may seem from the graph that the high reappraisers were affected more by negative pictures in congruent trials, there was no significant interaction between the valence effect in these trials and reappraisal, F(1, 23) 1.77, p .20, 2 .07. In contrast, in the p incongruent condition, low reappraisers were affected by negative stimuli, whereas the influence of these stimuli was eliminated in the high reappraisers group. To summarize, findings from both the regression analysis and the ANOVA converge and strongly imply that when there is a need to deal with a conflict situation, high reappraisers do not tend to be influenced by negative stimuli, whereas low reappraisers performance is disrupted. These results suggest that executive control processes can serve to reduce emotional interference under conflict situations among people who frequently tend to use reappraisal. Suppression tendency, on the other hand, did not modulate this effect.

processes can attenuate emotional response only in high reappraisers. To directly examine if executive control can attenuate emotion, the conflict situation should occur before the emotional stimulus appears. Accordingly, in Experiment 2 the flanker task preceded the emotional stimuli. To examine emotional interference, the pictures were followed by a simple discrimination task (see Figure 3). Previous studies have shown that emotional stimuli disrupt performance in discrimination tasks (Buodo et al., 2002; Hartikainen et al., 2000), and hence, we assessed emotional interference in this study by using the RTs of the discrimination task (i.e., RT when preceded by negative pictures minus RT when preceded by neutral pictures). The ERQ (Gross & John, 2003) was used to measure reappraisal and suppression. Additional questionnaires were also administered but will not be discussed in this article. We hypothesized that reappraisal tendency would be associated with a more efficient ability of executive control to reduce emotional interference. Specifically, we predicted that high reappraisers would show larger emotional interference (calculated as RTs of negative minus neutral trials of the discrimination task) when the pictures were preceded by congruent flankers than when preceded by incongruent flankers. Low reappraisers were expected to demonstrate a general emotional interference, regardless of flanker condition. Following the results of Experiment 1, which showed no modulation of task performance by suppression levels, we did not expect suppression to affect task performance in Experiment 2. In Experiment 2, we also overcame a limitation of Experiment 1. In Experiment 1 the pictures were chosen according to valence and arousal ratings, and hence, the two sets of stimuli (negative and neutral) might have differed in variables such as visual properties and content. Experiment 2 included sets of negative and neutral stimuli that were matched in content and in brightness (as assessed in a pupil dilation experiment, unpublished results).

Experiment 2
The results of Experiment 1 demonstrate that the tendency to use reappraisal is related to reduced emotional interference during a conflicting task, whereas the tendency to use suppression does not modulate this effect. It is possible that people who frequently use reappraisal have stronger inhibitory connections between executive control and emotion. Namely, we suggest that executive

Method
Participants. Thirty-four undergraduate students from BenGurion University of the Negev participated in the experiment in return for a course credit. Data from two participants were excluded because of extreme error rates (more than 2 SD above the mean error rate) in the flanker task. Data from one more participant

Figure 2. Congruityvalence interaction in low and high reappraisers. Note: , neutral trials; , negative trials.

COHEN, HENIK, AND MOYAL

Figure 3.

Example of a congruent trial with a negative picture.

was excluded because of an extreme error rate (more than 2 SD above the mean error rate) in the discrimination task. Data from two participants were excluded because of unreliable ratings in the ERQ (extreme ratings). Hence, 29 participants (20 women) remained in the sample (the mean age was 23 years, SD 1.63). All participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision and no reported history of ADD. Apparatus. The apparatus was the same as in Experiment 1. Procedure. After signing a consent form, participants were seated in front of a computer, and instructions were presented on the screen. Participants were instructed to look at the fixation cross that appeared in the middle of the screen and to respond as quickly and accurately as possible to two tasks in each triala flanker task and a discrimination task. The flanker task was identical to the flanker task presented in Experiment 1. Participants pressed the Q key with their left index finger to indicate a middle arrow pointing to the left and the P key with their right index finger to indicate a middle arrow pointing to the right. In the discrimination task, participants needed to discriminate between a green square and a blue square. Participants pressed the V key with their left thumb when the square was green and the N key with their right thumb when the square was blue. Before starting the task, participants completed 16 practice trials in which they received accuracy feedback for both flanker and discrimination targets. Figure 3 presents a sample trial. Each trial started with a presentation of a fixation cross for 1000 ms. Then, a flanker target was presented for 1000 ms or until the participants response. In half of the trials the flanker target was congruent, and in the other half the flanker target was incongruent. Following the flanker target, a picture was presented. A randomized interval of 0 1500 ms appeared between the flanker target disappearance and the picture appearance. The picture was presented for 100 ms. In half of the trials, the picture had negative valence, and in the other half, it had neutral valence. Next, a 50-ms interval appeared and was followed by the discrimination target presentation. Half of the discrimination targets included a green square, and the other half included a blue square. The discrimination target remained on screen for 2000 ms or until the participants response. After completing the task, participants filled in the questionnaires and were debriefed and thanked for their participation.

scenes, and objects. Each category contained 12 pictures. Negative pictures were selected to have extreme arousal and negative valence ratings (mean valence 2.99, mean arousal 5.68), whereas neutral pictures were selected to have neutral valence and low arousal ratings (mean valence 5.11, mean arousal 3.45). Pictures were sized to be 16.5 21 cm. Flanker stimuli. Flanker stimuli were the same as in Experiment 1. Discrimination target. The target was a green or a blue square. The squares were sized to be 7.5 7.2 cm. Emotion regulation questionnaire. The ERQ (Gross & John, 2003) was administered in order to assess reappraisal and suppression levels (see Experiment 1). Cronbachs alpha in the current sample was 0.66 for reappraisal and 0.76 for suppression. Design. The design contained two within-subject factors: target congruity (congruent, incongruent) and picture valence (negative, neutral). The RT to the discrimination target served as the dependent variable, and reappraisal and suppression scores served as between-subjects factors. The task consisted of 384 trials (2 flanker target congruities 2 flanker target directions 2 picture valences 2 discrimination targets 24 repetitions), which were divided into two blocks. Trials were presented in a different random order for each participant.

Results and Discussion


RTs that were indicated as outliers in a histogram chart in the discrimination task (below 200 ms or above 1500 ms) were excluded from analysis. Mean RTs of correct responses in the various conditions and reappraisal and suppression scores were calculated. The overall mean error rate in the flanker task was 2.95% and in the discrimination task was 3.83%. No significant effects were found in the analysis of the incorrect responses, and there was no evidence for a speedaccuracy trade-off. Hence, we report only the analyses pertaining to RT data of correct trials. Before conducting a multiple regression analysis to examine our hypothesis that reappraisal predicts emotional interference in incongruent trials, we assessed the correlation between reappraisal and suppression to avoid multicollinearity. The correlation between reappraisal and suppression was not significant, r 0.04, p .82; hence, we included both as predictors in the multiple regression analysis. In general, data analyses were similar to that of Experiment 1. However, in Experiment 1 the pictures appeared before the flanker target, whereas here the pictures appeared after the flanker target. Hence, RTs of the discrimination task reflected emotional interference and served as a dependent variable in the analyses (calculated as RTs of targets preceded by a negative picture minus RTs

Stimuli
Pictures. Forty-eight negative and 48 neutral pictures from the IAPS (Lang et al., 2001) were used. Pictures selection was based on IAPS arousal and valence ratings and also on the pictures content. Four content categories were created: animals, humans,

REAPPRAISAL AND THE EXECUTIVEEMOTION LINKS

of targets preceded by a neutral picture). As in Experiment 1, we conducted two analyses, one to examine emotional interference following incongruent trials and one to examine emotional interference following congruent trials. As hypothesized, increased reappraisal level predicted decreased emotional interference following incongruent flankers, 0.52, t 3.09, p .01 (see Table 2a). This model accounted for 22% of the variance, F(1, 26) 4.86, p .02. Suppression did not predict this interference. Moreover, both reappraisal and suppression did not predict emotional interference following congruent trials (see Table 2b). These results provide strong evidence that frequent use of reappraisal is related to attenuated emotional response following conflict situations. To further investigate this finding, we again divided the sample into two reappraisal groups according to the median score (below or above 31). This resulted in two groups: low reappraisers (N 17, M 26.47, SD 2.94) and high reappraisers (N 12, M 34.17, SD 2.33). These data were subjected to a three-way mixed-measure ANOVA with congruity (congruent, incongruent) and valence (negative, neutral) as withinsubject factors and reappraisal level (high, low) as a betweensubjects factor. The dependent variable was again the RT to the discrimination target. A significant effect for emotion, M negative 524.37, M neutral 512.26; F(1, 27) 18.29, p .01, 2 p .40, indicated that participants response after negative pictures was slower than participants response after neutral pictures. Importantly, in accordance with the regression findings, the interaction between valence, congruity, and reappraisal was significant, F(1, 27) 7.33, p .01, 2 .21 (see Figure 4). In line with our p prediction, the congruityvalence interaction was significant in the high-reappraisers group, F(1, 11) 5.65, p .04, 2 .34, and p was not significant in the low-reappraisers group, F(1, 16) 2.57, p .13, 2 .14. The low reappraisers showed a significant p effect for valence regardless of congruity, F(1, 16) 24.60, p .001, 2 .61. Further analysis of the interaction between valence p and congruity in the high-reappraisers group revealed a main effect for valence in congruent trials, F(1, 11) 5.85, p .03, 2 .35, p and no difference between negative and neutral pictures in incongruent trials, F(1, 11) 0.11, p .74, 2 .01. In addition, in p congruent trials emotional interference was significant regardless of reappraisal strategy (i.e., low vs. high reappraisers), F(1, 27) 0.41, p .53, 2 .02. p

The results of Experiment 2 strengthen the findings of Experiment 1. Both experiments demonstrated that reappraisal modulates the relationship between executive control and emotion, whereas suppression does not affect this relationship. Moreover, results from both experiments imply that high and low reappraisers differ in their ability to ignore irrelevant emotional information during or following conflict situations. Importantly, the results of Experiment 2 show that the mechanism in which executive processes attenuate the emotional system can be activated even before the appearance of an emotional stimulus. Accordingly, we suggest that our emotional system is continually monitored by executive control processes, and this monitoring differs according to peoples tendency to use reappraisal in daily life.

Discussion
Our study examined the links between frequent use of emotion regulation strategies (e.g., reappraisal and suppression) on the ability of executive control to reduce emotional effects. We tested these links when negative and neutral pictures preceded (Experiment 1) or followed (Experiment 2) a conflict situation. Both experiments present novel findings that show that the mechanism in which executive processes attenuate emotional effects is activated differently in low and high reappraisers. In addition, we showed that suppression tendency does not modulate this effect. In Experiment 1, we demonstrated that high reappraisers were not disrupted by negative stimuli when performing a conflicting task. In Experiment 2, we suggested a mechanism that may underlie this phenomenoninhibition of the emotional system following activation of conflict monitoring processes. These results are the first to show a specific executive mechanism (e.g., conflict monitoring) that may be responsible for our ability to use reappraisal in daily life situations. We suggest that frequent use of reappraisal is associated with a stronger inhibitory relationship between executive control and emotion, as found at the neuronal level during instructed or spontaneous reappraisal (Drabant et al., 2009; Goldin et al., 2008; Kim & Hamann, 2007; Ochsner et al., 2002; Ochsner et al., 2004). The fact that suppression did not modulate task performance further strengthens the idea of a specific link between the tendency to use reappraisal and a regulatory network between executive and emotion-related regions. Although intentional suppression was found to activate executive-related brain regions, this activation was usually accompanied with increased activation in emotion regions (Goldin et al., 2008). Goldin et al. suggested that executive activation during suppression might be related to inhibitory control of facial expressions and not to regulation of emotion regions. Hence, it is plausible to assume that although both emotion regulation strategies are involved in executive activation, the specific ability of executive processes to attenuate the emotional system is a key characteristic of high reappraisers. This improved relationship between executive control and emotion may explain the findings regarding the connection between reappraisal and improved quality of life. Recent studies suggest a genetic contribution for individual differences in both attention to emotional stimuli and emotion regulation tendencies such as suppression and reappraisal (for review see Canli, Ferri, & Duman, 2009). These findings may imply a genetic predisposition for the improved executive emotion relationship in high reappraisers. Nonetheless, it is also

Table 2 Emotional Interference in Incongruent and Congruent Trials as Predicted by Reappraisal and Suppression
B SE t p

2a. Emotional interference in incongruent trials Independent variable Reappraisal 11.47 3.71 .52 3.10 Suppression 0.94 3.71 .04 .25 2b. Emotional interference in congruent trials Independent variable Reappraisal 4.85 4.42 .24 1.10 Suppression 1.43 4.79 .07 .30 Note. Emotional interference p .05. reaction time of negative

.01 .80

.28 .77

neutral trials.

COHEN, HENIK, AND MOYAL

Figure 4. Congruityvalence interaction in low and high reappraisers. Mean RTs were calculated based on the discrimination task data. Note: , neutral trials; , negative trials.

possible to assume that an increased tendency to use reappraisal in daily life strengthens the connections between executive control and emotion, independent of a genetic contribution. Both of these notions (genetic predisposition for improved executive emotion connections and strengthening of these connections during frequent use of reappraisal) can explain the results of enhanced activation in executive control areas during instructed reappraisal (Goldin et al., 2008; Ochsner, Hughes, Robertson, Cooper, & Gabrieli, 2009; Ochsner et al., 2004; for review see Ochsner & Gross, 2005) or spontaneous reappraisal (Drabant et al., 2009). Moreover, a recent study found that the tendency to use reappraisal is correlated with an increase in cerebral blood flow in areas that are related to cognitive control under rest conditions (Abler, Hofer, & Viviani, 2008). We suggest that high reappraisers are endowed with (or develop) stronger connections between executive and emotion-related regions than low reappraisers. However, one may suggest another perspective; rather than high reappraisers having an efficient ability of executive processes to reduce emotional interference, low reappraisers have a deficit in this ability. Reappraisal is a strategy that is frequently used in daily life (Gross, Richards, & John, 2006), and hence, the low reappraisers are those who deviate from the norm. We also know that low reappraisers experience greater negative emotion and less positive emotion. They also show worse interpersonal functioning and life satisfaction (Gross & John, 2003). Our data demonstrates that they also fail to suppress irrelevant emotional stimuli when they need to solve cognitive conflicts. One limitation of the current study is that small samples were used in both of the experiments, which may have reduced Cronbachs alpha of the reappraisal and suppression scales. Another limitation is that only negative stimuli were used as emotional stimuli, and hence, the relationship found between executive control and emotion is valid only for negative stimuli. Effects of positive stimuli might be less crucial for survival than effects caused by negative stimuli. Nevertheless, studying the links between executive control and positive emotions is important for establishing a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms in which executive control modulates emotional interference, and their relationship to emotion regulation strategies. To conclude, we have demonstrated that frequent use of reappraisal is associated with stronger ability of executive process (e.g., conflict monitoring) to reduce emotional interference,

whereas suppression level does not modulate this effect. These findings raise important questions whose answers may have significant implications on our well-being. Adaptive behavior depends on our ability to avoid excessive emotional reactivity when encountering irrelevant emotional information and on our ability to use reappraisal in everyday situations. Future research can examine if training executive mechanisms can enhance peoples tendency to use reappraisal. In addition, future studies can examine if improving reappraisal skills can prevent the disruptive effects of irrelevant emotional information in conflict situations. Addressing these questions can further our knowledge regarding the relationship between executive control, emotion, and individual differences in the tendency to use emotion regulation strategies. Studying this relationship may help in finding more efficient treatments for people who have a deficient ability of executive control to attenuate the disruptive effects of irrelevant emotional information. Moreover, it may uncover the mechanisms that are responsible for the failure of some individuals to use adaptive emotion regulation strategies in daily life situations.

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Received March 21, 2011 Revision received November 28, 2011 Accepted December 1, 2011