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Feelings Into Words: Contributions of Language to Exposure Therapy

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A growing body of research has revealed that labeling an emotion, or putting one's feelings into words, can help to downregulate that affect, as occurs with intentional forms of emotion regulation, such as reappraisal and distraction. We translated this basic research to a real-world clinical context, in which spider-fearful individuals were repeatedly exposed to a live spider. Using a between-subjects design, we compared the effects of affect labeling, reappraisal, distraction from the feared stimulus, and exposure alone during this brief course of exposure therapy on subsequent fear responding. At a 1-week posttest involving a different spider in another context, the affect-labeling group exhibited reduced skin conductance response relative to the other groups and marginally greater approach behavior than the distraction group; however, the affect-labeling group did not differ from the other groups in self-reported fear. Additionally, greater use of anxiety and fear words during exposure was associated with greater reductions in fear responding. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, affect labeling may help to regulate aspects of emotion in a clinical context.
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published online 16 August 2012Psychological Science
Katharina Kircanski, Matthew D. Lieberman and Michelle G. Craske
Feelings Into Words : Contributions of Language to Exposure Therapy
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Humans are distinctively able to think symbolically and to use
language to express and regulate emotion. Several types of lin-
guistic processing have been shown to attenuate negative
emotional processes on neural, physiological, and subjective
levels (e.g., Antony, McCabe, Leeuw, Sano, & Swinson, 2001;
Craske, Street, Jayaraman, & Barlow, 1991; Gross, 1998;
Hariri, Bookheimer, & Mazziotta, 2000; Lieberman et al.,
2007; Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002; Pennebaker,
1997; Tabibnia, Lieberman, & Craske, 2008). In particular, the
emotion-regulating functions of affect labeling, reappraisal,
and distraction have each been examined. Affect labeling
refers to verbalization of current emotional experience—
putting feelings into words (Lieberman, 2011; Pennebaker,
1997). Reappraisal refers to verbalization with the intent to
regulate emotion by construing an evocative stimulus in a way
that reduces its emotional significance (Gross, 1998; Gross &
John, 2003). Distraction in this context refers to verbalization
unrelated to affective material (e.g., Pennebaker, 1997).
Whereas reappraisal (e.g., Eippert et al., 2007; Gross, 1998,
2002; Ochsner et al., 2002) and distraction (e.g., Antony et al.,
2001; Craske et al., 1991) are considered intentional and often
effective forms of emotion regulation, affect labeling is rela-
tively unintentional (Lieberman, 2011), and individuals may
not expect or believe labeling to be useful for downregulating
negative affect (Lieberman, Inagaki, Tabibnia, & Crockett,
2011). However, there is increasing support for affect labeling
as a viable form of emotion regulation. For example, experi-
mental studies have found that when current emotional experi-
ence is verbalized, whether in spoken or written form, distress
is reduced relative to conditions in which no verbalization or
verbalization of nonaffective material occurs (for reviews, see
Frattaroli, 2005; Pennebaker & Chung, 2011).
Of particular relevance to fear and anxiety, results of neuro-
imaging research have demonstrated that self-reflective cogni-
tive processing, such as affect labeling, can reduce limbic
responses to negative emotional stimuli via a neurocognitive
feedback mechanism. For instance, Lieberman and his col-
leagues (2007) demonstrated that the amygdala activity nor-
mally present while viewing an evocative image was diminished
while participants performed affect labeling (e.g., choosing the
word “scared”), whereas right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex
(RVLPFC) was selectively activated during affect labeling.
Corresponding Author:
Katharina Kircanski, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Jordan
Hall, Building 420, Stanford, CA 94305-2130
E-mail: katharina.kircanski@gmail.com
Feelings Into Words: Contributions of
Language to Exposure Therapy
Katharina Kircanski, Matthew D. Lieberman, and
Michelle G. Craske
University of California, Los Angeles
Abstract
A growing body of research has revealed that labeling an emotion, or putting one’s feelings into words, can help to
downregulate that affect, as occurs with intentional forms of emotion regulation, such as reappraisal and distraction. We
translated this basic research to a real-world clinical context, in which spider-fearful individuals were repeatedly exposed
to a live spider. Using a between-subjects design, we compared the effects of affect labeling, reappraisal, distraction from
the feared stimulus, and exposure alone during this brief course of exposure therapy on subsequent fear responding. At a
1-week posttest involving a different spider in another context, the affect-labeling group exhibited reduced skin conductance
response relative to the other groups and marginally greater approach behavior than the distraction group; however, the
affect-labeling group did not differ from the other groups in self-reported fear. Additionally, greater use of anxiety and fear
words during exposure was associated with greater reductions in fear responding. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, affect labeling
may help to regulate aspects of emotion in a clinical context.
Keywords
fear, language, affect labeling, reappraisal, distraction, exposure therapy, skin conductance, approach behavior
Received 6/25/11; Revision accepted 2/29/12
Research Report
Psychological Science OnlineFirst, published on August 16, 2012 as doi:10.1177/0956797612443830
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2 Kircanski et al.
RVLP FC wa s no t ac ti va te d du ri ng nonaf fective labeling. A
subsequent study (Tabibnia et al., 2008) investigated the effects
of labeling on skin conductance response (SCR) as a peripheral
index of emotional arousal. Participants viewed evocative
images with or without a variety of one-word negative-affect
labels as SCRs to the images were measured. At a retest con-
ducted 1 week later, the images were shown with no labels as
SCRs were again measured. SCR attenuation was significantly
greater for participants in the labeling condition than for par-
ticipants in the no-label condition. Moreover, this effect was
replicated in a spider-fearful sample during exposure to spider
images.
To da te, no st udi es ha ve co mp are d the eff ects o f a ffec t la be l-
ing, reappraisal, and distraction on fear responding. This over-
sight is conspicuous given that psychological treatments for
emotional disorders involve language (i.e., talking) as well
as behavioral interventions. We examined these verbalization
methods during a brief course of exposure therapy, the most
widely used psychological treatment for phobias and other anxi-
ety disorders. Traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
for anxiety disorders (Beck & Emery, 1985; Emmelkamp, 1982)
emphasizes reappraisal, or the replacement of negative thoughts
with neutral thoughts about a feared stimulus, to reduce fearful
responding. However, there has been debate about whether cog-
nitive reappraisal adds significant value to exposure without
reappraisal (Longmore & Worrell, 2007). On the basis of previ-
ous neuroimaging and psychophysiological research (Lieberman
et al., 2007; Tabibnia et al., 2008), we hypothesized that affect
labeling would lead to greater decreases in SCR and self-
reported fear and greater increases in approach behavior relative
to the other conditions in our study, with the potential exception
of reappraisal.
Method
Design
This study had a 4 (group: affect labeling, reappraisal, distrac-
tion, and exposure alone) × 3 (measurement occasion: pretest,
immediate posttest, 1-week posttest) mixed design.
Participants
Eighty-eight participants (mean age = 20.5 years, SD = 4.6)
who scored in the top quartile on the Spider Phobia Question-
naire (M = 14.38, SD = 3.78; Klorman, Weerts, Hastings,
Melamed, & Lang, 1974) completed the study. Participants
were drawn from an undergraduate psychology course and the
community and were given 1 hour of experiment credit to be
used toward filling a course requirement or $10 payment,
respectively, for every hour of participation. Participants were
82% female and 18% male. The sample was 24% White, 41%
Asian/Pacific Islander, 14% Latino/Hispanic, 5% African
American, 7% biracial, and 9% other.
Procedure
On Day 1, participants signed informed consent and com-
pleted a pretest outdoors, in which they were instructed to
approach a live Chilean rose-haired tarantula (Phrixotrichus
spatulata; leg span = 6 in.; see Fig. 1). The tarantula was in a
container, and participants were instructed to approach the spi-
der as closely as possible according to a series of 10 standard-
ized steps lasting 30 s each. On the first step, participants were
instructed to stand at a 5-ft distance from the spider. On the
last step, participants were instructed to touch the spider con-
tinuously with the tip of their index finger.
Participants were then randomly assigned to four groups
(affect labeling, reappraisal, distraction, exposure alone) of 22
participants each. Participants were brought indoors, where
they sat 2 ft from a screen covering a live tarantula (leg span =
6 in.) different from the one they saw in the pretest. They
underwent 10 exposure trials for durations of 38 s each. The
pretest and exposure contexts were different in order to maxi-
mize sensitivity of the dependent measures and examine gen-
eralizability to a naturalistic outdoor setting (e.g., Bouton,
1993). After the first 8 s of each trial, a tone was presented to
prompt participants to follow group-specific instructions.
Participants in the affect-labeling group were instructed to
create and speak a sentence including a negative word to
describe the spider and a negative word or two to describe
their emotional response to the spider (e.g., “I feel anxious the
disgusting tarantula will jump on me”). In the reappraisal
group, participants were instructed to create and speak a sen-
tence including a neutral word to describe the spider and a
neutral word or two to describe a way of thinking about the
Fig. 1. Spider and container used in the pretest, immediate posttest, and
1-week posttest.
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Language and Emotion in Exposure Therapy 3
spider in order to feel less negatively about it (e.g., “Looking
at the little spider is not dangerous for me”). In the distraction
group, participants were instructed to create and speak a sen-
tence including an object or piece of furniture found in their
home and a room or location in which the furnishing is found
(e.g., “There is a television in front of my couch in the den”).
Participants in the affect-labeling, reappraisal, and distraction
groups were also instructed to vary their sentences across
exposure trials. Participants in the exposure-alone group
received no verbalization instructions.
After participants heard the tone, exposure lasted an addi-
tional 30 s. Intertrial intervals lasted 60 s, during which the
screen was placed in front of the spider.
On Day 2, participants underwent 10 exposure trials for
38 s each, in the same manner as on Day 1. Participants then
completed an immediate posttest, which followed the same
procedure as the pretest, with instructions to remain silent
throughout. On Day 9, participants completed a 1-week post-
test following the same procedure as the pretest and immediate
posttest.
Measures
SCR. At each test, SCR was utilized as the physiological mea-
sure of fearful arousal. SCR was recorded using an ambulatory
monitoring device (LifeShirt, VivoMetrics, Ventura, CA;
Wilhelm, Roth, & Sackner, 2003). Skin conductance signals
were transmitted using two electrodes attached to the ring and
middle fingers of the nondominant hand, and amplitude was
recorded to the nearest microsiemens. Data were cleaned,
inspected, and analyzed using VivoLogic software (Version
3.1; VivoMetrics). Baseline skin conductance for each test was
calculated during the 3-min period prior to each test. SCR for
each test was scored as the number of peak skin conductance
values for the final step completed by each participant. Peak
values of less than 2 s were discarded as artifacts (Davis,
Barad, Otto, & Southwick, 2006; Ressler et al., 2004).
Behavioral approach. Behavioral approach was measured
during the tests as the number of test steps fully completed.
The raw number of additional steps completed from each test
to the next (negative or positive) was also computed.
Reported fear. Self-reported fear was assessed using a visual
analogue scale ranging from 0 (no fear) to 100 (extreme fear)
following the final step of each test trial.
Word use. Participants’ sentences across all exposure trials
were transcribed and analyzed using Pennebaker’s Linguistic
Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software (Pennebaker &
Francis, 1999). LIWC includes a text processor and dictionary
of words and word stems organized along separate scales.
Analyses were limited to the scale of anxiety and fear words
(e.g., nervous, afraid, tense).
Results
Baseline group differences
One-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) indicated no sig-
nificant group differences in Spider Phobia Questionnaire
score or in SCR, behavioral approach, or reported fear at
pretest.
SCR
Table 1 shows raw SCR scores. A univariate analysis of cova-
riance (ANCOVA) was conducted on SCR change from the
Table 1. Mean Raw Scores for the Three Dependent Measures at the Three Test Occasions
Group
Measure and test Affect labeling Reappraisal Distraction Exposure alone
Skin conductance response (µS)
Pretest 1.76 (1.09) 1.73 (0.77) 1.59 (0.85) 2.00 (0.73)
Immediate posttest 2.18 (0.80) 1.91 (0.97) 1.82 (1.01) 1.83 (0.85)
One-week posttest 1.58 (0.80) 2.18 (1.01) 1.95 (1.29) 1.90 (0.98)
Behavioral approach
Pretest 5.18 (2.44) 5.68 (2.97) 6.36 (2.46) 6.14 (2.12)
Immediate posttest 6.36 (2.84) 6.36 (3.03) 7.18 (2.46) 7.00 (2.39)
One-week posttest 7.82 (2.44) 7.45 (2.84) 7.68 (2.59) 8.05 (2.50)
Reported fear
Pretest 79.75 (20.77) 65.49 (20.39) 74.49 (22.02) 67.34 (24.89)
Immediate posttest 68.99 (31.34) 60.26 (22.70) 63.94 (26.50) 52.42 (30.15)
One-week posttest 56.52 (29.16) 44.98 (31.96) 40.64 (25.33) 40.22 (30.79)
Note: Standard deviations are given in parentheses. Behavioral approach was indexed by measuring the number of test
steps that participants fully completed. Self-reported fear was assessed using a visual analogue scale ranging from 0 (no
fear) to 100 (extreme fear) following the final step of each test trial.
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4 Kircanski et al.
pretest to the immediate posttest, with baseline skin conduc-
tance and the number of steps completed for each test entered
as covariates. Planned pairwise comparisons indicated no sig-
nificant differences between the affect-labeling group (M =
0.53 µS) and the reappraisal group (M = 0.22 µS), distraction
group (M = 0.23 µS), or exposure-alone group (M = 0.24
µS), ds = –0.63 to –0.25, ps = .06–.41.
A univariate ANCOVA was conducted on SCR change
from the immediate posttest to the 1-week posttest, with base-
line skin conductance and the number of steps completed for
each test entered as covariates. Planned pairwise comparisons
indicated significantly greater SCR decrease for the affect-
labeling group (M = 0.66, SE = 0.24) than for the reappraisal
group (M = 0.31, SE = 0.24; p = .005, d = 0.85), distraction
group (M = 0.18, SE = 0.24; p = .017, d = 0.74), and exposure-
alone group (M = 0.08, SE = 0.25, p = .044, d = 0.64). A con-
trast analysis comparing the affect-labeling group with all
other groups combined was significant (p = .004; see Fig. 2).
Behavioral approach
Table 1 shows raw behavioral-approach scores. A univariate
ANOVA was conducted on the number of additional steps
completed from the pretest to the immediate posttest. Planned
pairwise comparisons indicated no significant differences
between the affect-labeling group (M = 1.18) and the reap-
praisal group (M = 0.68), distraction group (M = 0.82), or
exposure-alone group (M = 0.86), ds = 0.18–0.28.
A univariate ANOVA was conducted on the number of
additional steps completed from the immediate posttest to the
1-week posttest. Planned pairwise comparisons indicated that
a marginally greater number of additional steps were com-
pleted by the affect-labeling group (M = 1.46, SE = 0.35) than
by the distraction group (M = 0.50, SE = 0.35), p = .054, d =
0.59 (see Fig. 3).
Reported fear
Table 1 shows raw self-reported fear scores. For the analysis,
we removed four change scores that were statistical outliers
(> 3 SD from the mean). A univariate ANCOVA was con-
ducted on change in reported fear from the pretest to the
immediate posttest, with the number of steps completed for
each test entered as covariates. Planned pairwise comparisons
indicated no significant differences between the affect-label-
ing group (M = –14.69) and the reappraisal group (M = –5.47),
distraction group (M = –10.92), or exposure-alone group (M =
–11.13), ds = 0.18–0.48.
A univariate ANCOVA was conducted on change in
reported fear from the immediate posttest to the 1-week post-
test, with the number of steps completed for each test entered
as covariates. Planned pairwise comparisons indicated no sig-
nificant differences between the affect-labeling group (M =
–15.82) and the reappraisal group (M = –16.21), distraction
group (M = –19.55), or exposure-alone group (M = –11.78),
ds = –0.18–0.20.
Word use
A uni varia te ANO VA wa s con ducte d on th e per centa ge of a nxi-
ety and fear words used during exposure by the affect-labeling,
reappraisal, and distraction groups. Pairwise comparisons
–1.0
–0.5
0.0
0.5
1.0
SCR Change (µS)
Affect
Labeling
Reappraisal Distraction
Exposure
Alone
Group
*
*
**
Fig. 2. Change in skin conductance response (SCR) from the immediate
posttest to the 1-week posttest as a function of group. Error bars indicate
±1 SE. Asterisks indicate that pairwise comparisons between groups were
significant (*p < .05, **p < .01).
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
Number of Additional Steps Completed
Affect
Labeling
Reappraisal Distraction
Exposure
Alone
Group
Fig. 3. Number of additional steps completed from the immediate posttest
to the 1-week posttest as a function of group. Error bars indicate ±1 SE. The
dagger indicates that a pairwise comparison between groups was marginally
significant (p = .05).
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Language and Emotion in Exposure Therapy 5
indicated greater use of anxiety and fear words by the affect-
labeling group (M = 6.00%, SE = 0.40%) than by the reappraisal
group (M = 0.35%, SE = 0.40%), p < .001, d = 3.00, and the
distraction group (M = 0.02%, SE = 0.40%), p < .001, d = 3.18.
Bivariate correlational analyses across the three groups indi-
cated that a greater percentage of anxiety and fear words was
associated with greater reduction in SCR from the immediate
posttest to the 1-week posttest, r = –.288, p = .019, and with a
marginally greater number of additional test steps completed
from the pretest to the immediate posttest, r = .234, p = .059,
and from the immediate posttest to the 1-week posttest, r = .219,
p = .077.
Discussion
The goal of this study was to extend findings reported in the
growing basic-science literature on word use and emotion
regulation to a real-world clinical context—in this case, expo-
sure therapy for individuals fearful of spiders. Overall, our
results highlight the potential value of affect labeling in psy-
chological treatments for phobias and other anxiety disorders.
Affect labeling was shown to be more effective than reap-
praisal, distraction, and exposure alone in attenuating SCR
from the immediate posttest to the 1-week posttest, and mar-
ginally more effective than distraction in increasing behavioral
approach from the immediate posttest to the 1-week posttest.
Additionally, the greater percentage of anxiety and fear words
that participants verbalized during exposure, the essence of
affect labeling in this setting, the relatively greater the SCR
reduction they exhibited at the 1-week posttest and the margin-
ally closer they approached the spider at both posttests. These
results support prior psychophysiological findings (Tabibnia
et al., 2008) and appear to be the first to document benefits for
affect labeling on a behavioral measure of fear and anxiety.
In contrast, affect labeling was not shown to be more effec-
tive than the other conditions in reducing reported fear. Indi-
viduals may not expect or believe labeling to be useful for
downregulating negative affect (Lieberman et al., 2011), and
this may have differentially impacted the self-report measure
used in this study, relative to the more objective SCR and
behavioral-approach measures. In addition, reported fear was
assessed after the participant ended each test, which makes
this measure difficult to interpret because multiple affective
processes (e.g., residual fear, relief) were likely involved.
It is perhaps counterintuitive that affect labeling was more
effective than reappraisal in reducing psychophysiological
arousal, as traditional CBT emphasizes reappraisal. Affect
labeling recruits RVLPFC (Lieberman, 2011) and may enhance
inhibitory learning through mediation by medial prefrontal
cortex (Lieberman et al., 2007), which has been shown to
downregulate the amygdala in fear-extinction studies (e.g.,
Phelps, Delgado, Nearing, & LeDoux, 2004). Thus, RVLPFC
activation through labeling of affective experience may
enhance the normal processes of fear extinction, which is
important because anxious individuals exhibit deficits in
inhibitory regulation during extinction (e.g., Sehlmeyer et al.,
2011). Indeed, affect labeling may enhance outcomes by
increasing exposure to one’s own fear and anxiety. Such a pro-
cess may be similar to mindfulness, in which one becomes
more aware and accepting of ongoing experience, and for
which data support its relationship to reduced amygdala activ-
ity (e.g., Creswell, Way, Eisenberger, & Lieberman, 2007) and
improved psychiatric outcomes (e.g., Roemer & Orsillo, 2009;
Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002). In contrast, the instruc-
tions we gave to participants were rather limited relative to the
more in-depth guidelines often provided in clinical practice.
Therefore, it is likely that the skill-based application of reap-
praisal was not optimized relative to a full course of CBT.
It should also be noted that participants in the exposure-
alone group may have internally verbalized their affect natu-
rally in response to the spider, thus possibly benefiting
marginally from the effects of affect labeling. However, the
results suggest that instruction in explicit affect labeling pro-
duces more pronounced effects than simply allowing for the
possibility that individuals may internally label their affect.
Another limitation of this study is that the experimenters who
attached the psychophysiological equipment and coded behav-
ioral approach were not blind to the study conditions.
Future investigations should examine the effects of affect
labeling, reappraisal, and distraction on fear responding in a
larger clinical sample over a longer time period. It is possible
that word use may have differing effects across various sam-
ples and time intervals. Together, the findings reported here
suggest that verbalizing fear and anxiety during exposure to a
feared stimulus can improve the subsequent ability to effec-
tively manage aspects of one’s emotional experience and
behavior.
Acknowledgments
Katharina Kircanski is now at Stanford University. The authors wish
to acknowledge the contributions of Robert Bjork, John Piacentini,
Steven Reise, and Golnaz Tabibnia to the conception and design of
this study.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
Funding
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant
No. 1F31MH084380 (to Katharina Kircanski) and by the American
Psychologi cal Association.
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... the second session was similar, with the exception that subsequent to exposure to the initial intrusive thought (identical to that of the previous session), participants were exposed to another distressing thought. As mentioned, previous studies that used EC strategy (Tabibnia et al. 2008, Kircanski et al. 2012, Niles et al. 2015) revealed a significant decrease in participants' degree of anxiety. Therefore, we repeated this procedure in our study. ...
... a growing body of research has shown that affect labeling (AL, i.e., putting feelings into words) can disrupt and dampen the experience of emotional states (Kircanski et al. 2012;Lieberman et al. 2007;Niles et al. 2015;Tabibnia et al. 2008). AL is an explicit linguistic processing of emotions that involves identifying and naming the emotions aroused in a certain situation (Lieberman et al. 2007). ...
... Another study of participants with spider phobia found that the use of fear words during exposure leads to greater reductions in physiological fear responses, measured by skin conductance response (SCR), than exposure alone. However, no difference was found for self-reported measures (Kircanski et al. 2012). Similar results were found in participants with public-speaking anxiety (Niles et al., 2015). ...
Article
Objective: A growing body of research has shown that mere expression of affective words (affect labeling) can help dampen emotional responses, as reflected by these words. Previous studies revealed that affect labeling can reduce physiological anxiety responses of subjects suffering from anxiety disorders. In addition, multiple studies have shown that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) individuals have difficulty understanding their own emotions. However, the effect of affect labeling is unknown for people with high- OC symptoms. Method: We used different forms of affect labeling (emotion generation vs. emotion categorization) to examine their effect on participants with high-OC symptoms, and to find if these forms can be learned and generalized. Using a mix-model design, we compared the effects of emotion generation labeling, emotion categorization labeling, and exposure alone during exposure to distressing obsessive thoughts, at two different times, using both physiological and self-reported fear measures. Results: At the first session, the emotion categorization group exhibited reduced fear physiological responses, compared to the other groups; however, it did not differ from the other groups in self-reported fear responses. At the second session, all groups revealed reduced physiological and self-reported fear responses, suggesting that affect labeling was neither learned nor generalized. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that affect labeling may help attenuate physiological anxiety responses in high-OC subjects. Furthermore, they suggest different effects for the different affect labeling forms. Future research exposing participants for longer durations may further elucidate the role of labeling in facilitating exposure effects.
... The protocol in this study is similar to later work in acrophobia that demonstrated positive results (35). We hypothesized that iTBS stimulation of vmPFC would be well tolerated in subjects with spider phobia and that those receiving iTBS vmPFC stimulation prior to a behavioral avoidance test (BAT) would exhibit greater willingness to approach a novel spider, lower self-reported distress during the BAT, and greater reductions in skin conductance level (SCL, a physiologic measure commonly used in studies of phobias, including spider phobia) (33,(49)(50)(51) compared to those receiving control stimulation. Additional exploratory analyses assessed the extent to which stimulation intensity to the vmPFC was associated with these same dependent variables. ...
... After informed consent, subjects completed baseline Spider Phobia Questionnaire (SPQ) and Fear of Spiders questionnaire (FSQ), and a behavioral avoidance test (BAT), followed by an exposure session and iTBS administered to either an active or control stimulation site based on group assignment (randomly assigned by non-rater study staff on enrollment prior to iTBS treatment). Two subsequent exposure plus iTBS treatments were administered at 24-48 h intervals (49,51,53,54). At a final visit 1 week later, the SPQ and FSQ were repeated followed by an identical BAT to that administered at the initial visit. ...
... A behavioral avoidance testing (BAT) with nine standardized steps was utilized as previously described (administered by research staff blinded to subject group assignment) (49,51). Prior to initiation of the BAT, baseline skin conductance level (SCL) was recorded for 2 min from two electrodes attached to the second and third fingers of the subjects' non-dominant hand. ...
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Background Specific phobias represent the largest category of anxiety disorders. Previous work demonstrated that stimulating the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) with repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) may improve response to exposure therapy for acrophobia. Objective To examine feasibility of accelerating extinction learning in subjects with spider phobia using intermittent Theta Burst Stimulation (iTBS) rTMS of vmPFC. Methods In total, 17 subjects with spider phobia determined by spider phobia questionnaires [Spider Phobia Questionnaire (SPQ) and Fear of Spiders questionnaire (FSQ)] underwent ratings of fear of spiders as well as behavioral and skin conductance data during a behavioral avoidance test (BAT). Subjects then received a sequential protocol of in vivo spider exposure followed by iTBS for three sessions administered to either active or control treatment sites (vmPFC [ n = 8] or vertex [ n = 9], respectively), followed 1 week later by repetition of questionnaires and BAT. Results All subjects improved significantly regardless of group across both questionnaires (FSQ η ² = 0.43, p = 0.004; SPQ η ² = 0.39, p = 0.008) and skin conductance levels during BAT (Wald χ ² = 30.9, p < 0.001). Subjects in the vmPFC group tolerated lower treatment intensity than in the control group, and there was a significant correlation between treatment intensity, BAT subjective distress improvement, and physiologic measures (all ρ > 0.5). Conclusion This proof-of-concept study provides preliminary evidence that a sequential exposure and iTBS over vmPFC is feasible and may have rTMS intensity-dependent effects on treatment outcomes, providing evidence for future areas of study in the use of rTMS for phobias.
... Indeed, there is compelling theory and evidence suggesting that NED may operate by facilitating adaptive regulation of states of distress (Kashdan et al., 2015). For example, labeling feelings precisely can decrease the intensity of emotion-related arousal (Tabibnia et al., 2008;Kircanski et al., 2012). Moreover, NED has been explicitly tied to adaptive emotion regulatory strategy use (Barrett et al., 2001;Hill and Updegraff, 2012) and has been found to mitigate the association between negative affect (NA) and maladaptive behaviors known to interfere with treatment and predict poorer prognosis, including binge drinking, social avoidance, and non-suicidal self-injury (Kashdan et al., 2010;Zaki et al., 2013;Seah et al., 2020). ...
... Finally, the correlational nature of our study prevents conclusive interpretations regarding causality. However, accumulating evidence from experimental studies on ED suggests that it plays a causal role in facilitating adaptive behavioral responses in laboratory provocations (Kircanski et al., 2012;Cameron et al., 2013). This remains an important question worthy of future exploration. ...
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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that results in lower quality of life. Medication adherence is important for reducing relapse, disease progression, and MS-related symptoms, particularly during the early stages of MS. However, adherence may be impacted by negative emotional states. Therefore, it is important to identify protective factors. Past research suggests that the ability to discriminate between negative emotional states, also known as negative emotion differentiation (NED), may be protective against enactment of maladaptive risk-related behaviors. However, less is known as to how NED may promote adaptive health behaviors such as medication adherence. Utilizing weekly diaries, we investigated whether NED moderates the association between negative affect and medication adherence rates across 58 weeks among patients ( n = 27) newly diagnosed with MS (following McDonald criteria). Results revealed that NED significantly moderated the relationship between negative affect and medication adherence. Specifically, greater negative affect was associated with lower adherence only for individuals reporting low NED. However, this link disappeared for those reporting moderate to high NED. Building upon past research, our findings suggest that NED may promote adaptive health behaviors and have important clinical implications for the treatment and management of chronic illness.
... Clinicians may consider incorporating therapeutic activities that are intended to address emotionality (such as, regulating negative emotional reactions and promoting positive affect) into the optimism interventions. Empirical research has showed that expansion of emotional vocabulary to better identify and precisely label discrete emotions can enhance emotion differentiation (Kircanski, Lieberman, & Craske, 2012 0.000 Note. b = unstandardized coefficients; SE = maximum likelihood estimation with standard error; LL = lower limit of 95% Confidence Interval; UL = upper limit of 95% Confidence Interval. ...
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Full-text available
Daily life events often trigger and co-occur with various emotional reactions, which activate self-regulatory processes. One possible outcome of self-regulatory processes is optimism. Limited research has examined optimism in daily life and potential daily predictors including stressors, negative emotions, and positive emotions. Emotion differentiation-the ability to identify and label discrete emotional states-has the potential to change the association between daily predictors and optimism. The current study contextualized optimism in the emotion-laden daily life and examined the association of daily stressors and daily negative and positive emotional states to daily optimism and the role of negative and positive emotion regulation on these relationships. The current study adopted a daily diary design and collected self-reported daily responses from a sample of 248 college students over a seven-day study period. The results included concurrent and lagged effects and showed that daily negative affect and positive affect predicted both concurrent daily optimism and the next day's optimism. Greater negative emotion differentiation predicted higher daily optimism. A better ability to differentiate positive emotions predicted a stronger relation between positive affect and daily optimism. The findings underscored the importance of daily affect and emotion differentiation being important markers for optimism interventions and daily practices.
... The impact of these stressors on emotion regulation may play a fundamental role in determining long-term treatment outcomes. While the stresses of early recovery may be inevitable, there is evidence that emotion differentiation is a modifiable construct (Kircanski et al., 2012;Van der Gucht et al., 2019) that could be an important treatment target during and after substance use treatment. ...
Article
Background: Early recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) is commonly associated with high levels of negative affect, stress, and emotional vulnerability, which confer significant relapse risk. Emotion differentiation-the ability to distinguish between discrete emotions-has been shown to predict relapse after treatment for a drug use disorder, but this relationship has not been explored in individuals recovering from AUD. Methods: The current study used thrice daily random and up to thrice daily self-initiated ecological momentary assessment surveys (N = 42, observations = 915) to examine whether 1) moments of high affective arousal are characterized by momentary differences in emotion differentiation among individuals in the first year of a current AUD recovery attempt, and 2) individuals' average emotion differentiation would predict subsequent alcohol use measured by the timeline follow-back over a 3-month follow-up period. Results: Multilevel models showed that moments (Level 1) of higher-than-average negative affect (p < 0.001) and/or stress (p = 0.033) were characterized by less negative emotion differentiation, while moments of higher-than-average positive affect were characterized by greater positive emotion differentiation (p < 0.001). At the between-person level (Level 2), participants with higher stress overall had lower negative emotion differentiation (p = 0.009). Linear regression showed that average negative, but not positive, emotion differentiation was inversely associated with percent drinking days over the subsequent 3-month follow-up period (p = 0.042). Neither form of average emotion differentiation was associated with drinking quantity. Conclusions: We found that for individuals in early AUD recovery, affective states are associated with acute shifts in the capacity for emotion differentiation. Further, we found that average negative emotion differentiation prospectively predicts subsequent alcohol use.
... Evidence from a prior study showed that listening to mothers of preterm infants significantly reduced their depressive and anxiety symptoms [18]. Attending to parents' stories may help parents express their feelings, which may ultimately contribute to self-soothing, self-reflection, and tension regulation [19,20]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background: The dominant tradition in studying parents' responses to their child's hospitalization in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) is to focus on their immediate environment and their children's well-being. This view of the parents' experiences fails to describe the broader set of concurrent challenges beyond the PICU that parents carry with them into the PICU. Objectives: This study describes (a) parents' reactions to juggling their two worlds, home and hospital, when their child is hospitalized in the PICU, and (b) the impact of this juggling on their lives. Methods: Fifteen parents whose child was admitted into a PICU at a tertiary medical center for children in the Pacific Northwest participated in semi-structured interviews. Data analysis and interpretation were guided by grounded theory. Results: The theory grounded in the data and integrated with the core category was Fraying at the Seams while Balancing between Two Worlds, Home and Hospital. Analyses revealed two categories: Bringing My Life to a Halt and Throwing Our Whole Life Off. Conclusion: Even though parents were physically and emotionally present with their child in the PICU, they felt frayed as they concurrently struggled with their physical distance from other children at home. This strain of living in two worlds caused feelings of inadequacy to fulfill their parental role.
... However, this strategy is currently not practical. A more simple, but convenient, strategy is based on the observation that the mood modules can respond to words [38,39], or even to the use of certain muscles such as when smiling [40]. Thus, an alternative to neurofeedback is to take a meditative approach where the practitioner repeats words or short sentences such as 'life is good' or 'there is no reason to worry'. ...
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Happiness, or life satisfaction, has become an important factor when considering what should be the objective of a society. Understanding the nature of happiness is thus important. The text offers a biological—specifically evolutionary—framework, which suggests that happiness can be described as the net impact of positive and negative feelings. It follows that a key issue is to explain what these feelings are about. The present situation and options for improving the score of happiness are discussed.
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Recent studies have generated mixed findings regarding the effects of distraction on exposure-based treatments. Results have also been inconsistent regarding the effects of monitoring and blunting coping styles on outcome. The present study attempted to integrate these two areas of research. We hypothesized that the effect of distraction on treatment outcome might depend on coping style. Specifically, we predicted that for blunters (i.e., individuals who tend to avoid threat-related information), distraction would interfere with the effects of exposure. However, we predicted that distraction might benefit monitors (i.e., individuals who tend to seek out threat-related information). Sixty individuals with a specific phobia of spiders underwent a single, two-hour session of exposure treatment. During the first hour, half of the participants were distracted by listening to an audiotape and the other half underwent exposure without distraction. In the second hour, all participants underwent focused exposure. Based on measures of heart rate, subjective fear, and behavioral testing, participants improved after one hour of treatment, and improved further during the second hour. However, neither distraction, coping style, nor their interaction had a significant effect on outcome. The present study provides support for the benefits of behavioral treatment for specific phobias. However, our hypotheses regarding distraction and coping style were not confirmed.