Cognitive emotion regulation fails the stress test.

Psychology Department and Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY 10003.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 08/2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1305706110
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Cognitive emotion regulation has been widely shown in the laboratory to be an effective way to alter the nature of emotional responses. Despite its success in experimental contexts, however, we often fail to use these strategies in everyday life where stress is pervasive. The successful execution of cognitive regulation relies on intact executive functioning and engagement of the prefrontal cortex, both of which are rapidly impaired by the deleterious effects of stress. Because it is specifically under stressful conditions that we may benefit most from such deliberate forms of emotion regulation, we tested the efficacy of cognitive regulation after stress exposure. Participants first underwent fear-conditioning, where they learned that one stimulus (CS+) predicted an aversive outcome but another predicted a neutral outcome (CS-). Cognitive regulation training directly followed where participants were taught to regulate fear responses to the aversive stimulus. The next day, participants underwent an acute stress induction or a control task before repeating the fear-conditioning task using these newly acquired regulation skills. Skin conductance served as an index of fear arousal, and salivary α-amylase and cortisol concentrations were assayed as neuroendocrine markers of stress response. Although groups showed no differences in fear arousal during initial fear learning, nonstressed participants demonstrated robust fear reduction following regulation training, whereas stressed participants showed no such reduction. Our results suggest that stress markedly impairs the cognitive regulation of emotion and highlights critical limitations of this technique to control affective responses under stress.

Download full-text


Available from: Ashley A Shurick, Jun 16, 2015
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Fear learning and regulation is as a prominent model for describing the pathogenesis of anxiety disorders and stress-related psychopathology. Fear expression can be modulated using a number of regulatory strategies, including extinction, cognitive emotion regulation, avoidance strategies and reconsolidation. In this review, we examine research investigating the effects of acute stress and stress hormones on these regulatory techniques. We focus on what is known about the impact of stress on the ability to flexibly regulate fear responses that are acquired through Pavlovian fear conditioning. Our primary aim is to explore the impact of stress on fear regulation in humans. Given this, we focus on techniques where stress has been linked to alterations of fear regulation in humans (extinction and emotion regulation), and briefly discuss other techniques (avoidance and reconsolidation) where the impact of stress or stress hormones have been mainly explored in animal models. These investigations reveal that acute stress may impair the persistent inhibition of fear, presumably by altering prefrontal cortex function. Characterizing the effects of stress on fear regulation is critical for understanding the boundaries within which existing regulation strategies are viable in everyday life and can better inform treatment options for those who suffer from anxiety and stress-related psychopathology.
    01/2015; 1:134-146. DOI:10.1016/j.ynstr.2014.11.004
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: One of the fastest growing areas within psychology is the field of emotion regulation. However, enthusiasm for this topic continues to outstrip conceptual clarity, and there remains considerable uncertainty as to what is even meant by “emotion regulation.” The goal of this review is to examine the current status and future prospects of this rapidly growing field. In the first section, I define emotion and emotion regulation and distinguish both from related constructs. In the second section, I use the process model of emotion regulation to selectively review evidence that different regulation strategies have different consequences. In the third section, I introduce the extended process model of emotion regulation; this model considers emotion regulation to be one type of valuation, and distinguishes three emotion regulation stages (identification, selection, implementation). In the final section, I consider five key growth points for the field of emotion regulation.
    Psychological Inquiry 03/2015; 26(1):1-26. DOI:10.1080/1047840X.2014.940781 · 4.73 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Although cognitive regulation of emotion has been extensively examined, there is a lack of studies assessing cognitive regulation in stressful achievement situations. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging in 23 females and 20 males to investigate cognitive downregulation of negative, stressful sensations during a frequently used psychosocial stress task. Additionally, subjective responses, cognitive regulation strategies, salivary cortisol, and skin conductance response were assessed. Subjective response supported the experimental manipulation by showing higher anger and negative affect ratings after stress regulation than after the mere exposure to stress. On a neural level, right middle frontal gyrus (MFG) and right superior temporal gyrus (STG) were more strongly activated during regulation than nonregulation, whereas the hippocampus was less activated during regulation. Sex differences were evident: after regulation females expressed higher subjective stress ratings than males, and these ratings were associated with right hippocampal activation. In the nonregulation block, females showed greater activation of the left amygdala and the right STG during stress than males while males recruited the putamen more robustly in this condition. Thus, cognitive regulation of stressful achievement situations seems to induce additional stress, to recruit regions implicated in attention integration and working memory and to deactivate memory retrieval. Stress itself is associated with greater activation of limbic as well as attention areas in females than males. Additionally, activation of the memory system during cognitive regulation of stress is associated with greater perceived stress in females. Sex differences in cognitive regulation strategies merit further investigation that can guide sex sensitive interventions for stress-associated disorders. Hum Brain Mapp, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Human Brain Mapping 11/2014; 36(3). DOI:10.1002/hbm.22683 · 6.92 Impact Factor