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Consortium of European Research on Emotions



This study examined the relative effort exerted when participants down-regulated their emotional state using different emotion regulation (ER) strategies. N = 70 healthy participants were presented with film clips designed to induce disgust. Participants were asked to regulate their emotions using one of three different ER strategies: (i) instructed suppression, (ii) primed suppression and (iii) implementation intentions to suppress. A fourth group were asked to just watch the presented film clips. Participants responses to presented stimuli were measured through self-reports of their current emotional state. Gross’ (1998) emotional behaviour coding system was also used to assess participants’ emotional state through an examination of their facial expressions. Blood glucose levels (BGL) and heart rate variability (HRV) were used to examine the extent of biological effort exerted during ER. Findings suggested that instructed suppression and implementation intentions were able to help people to down-regulate their feelings of disgust. Primed suppression did not influence feelings of disgust. In terms of the effort associated with regulation, there were no differences between the strategies in blood glucose consumption. However, the use of instructed suppression and implementation intentions led to a significant increase in HRV compared to participants in the ‘watch’ condition. Contrary to expectations, however, there was no difference between implementation intentions and instructed suppression.
Academic Clinical Psychiatry &
The Department of Psychology
Biological and mental effort exerted during emotion regulation
Spyros Christou-Champi¹; Thomas L. Webb²; Tom, F.D. Farrow¹
1Academic Clinical Psychiatry, 2Department of Psychology
Emotion and ER
Emotions represent quick
assessment of situation specific
cues that trigger physiological,
behavioural and experiential
Emotions allow quick evaluations
of an event’s significance and
preparation for action to maintain
favourable, and deal with
unfavourable, outcomes
Emotion regulatory efforts aim to
decrease or increase both positive
and negative emotions and can
lead to changes in the valance,
intensity and time course of the
activated emotion .
Biological effort and ER
Analyses of heart rate variability
are good indicators of biological
effort as they rely on the activity of
the autonomic nervous system.
HRV is an index of the dynamic
balance between the
parasympathetic and sympathetic
divisions of the ANS at the sinus
HRV can be considered a proxy
measure of individuals’ ability to
generate regulated physiological
Previous examinations had
showed that increases in HRV
reflect high mental self regulatory
Emotion regulation processes can
be implemented at all stages of the
modal model leading to modulation
of initial emotional response.
Modified from Gross & Thompson
. Implementation intentions
Implementation intentions are ‘if-then’ plans
which connect a suitable opportunity for action
with responses capable of achieving a particular
Implementation intentions can be seen as a form
of strategic automation of action. They differ
from goal intentions that concentrate on a
desired end results because they specify when,
where and how goal directed responses are to be
Strategic automation is thought to be
accomplished through the establishment of a
strong mental link between the predefined
opportunity and related behaviour.
Suppression refers to the inhibition of
expressive behaviour under conditions
of emotional arousal.
Suppression leads to increased activity
of the sympathetic nervous system
(SNS) which is thought to respond to
increased demands for action.
Initially this seems paradoxical, given
that suppression inhibits action.
However, it makes sense if we take into
account the fact that suppression does
not regulate the induced emotion
leaving us in a motivational state, still
seeking an appropriate response.
54 healthy individuals (29 Female)
with mean age of 18.9 (0.98)
Three experimental conditions:
1. Control-just watch
2. Controlled suppression
3. Implementation intention
Participants watch four disgust
inducing film lasting 55 to 64 secs.
Participants responses to presented
stimuli were measured through:
I. self-reports of emotional state.
II. Expressive behaviour.
Biological effort exerted was
assessed using
I. Heart Rate
II. Blood Glucose levels
I. Both Controlled suppression
(p< .001) and Implementations
(p< .001) showed significantly
lower facial indication of disgust
as compared to self-reports.
I. No sig. Difference in BGL
between groups.
II. Controlled Sup. (p =.05) and
Imps (p = .046) led to sig.
increase in HRV ( low biological
/ high mental effort) compared to
no regulation.
III. No sig. difference in HRV
between suppression and Imps.
This study examined the biological
effort exerted when participants
down-regulated their emotional
state using different (ER) strategies.
It was shown that people can
suppress their expressive behaviour
but this does not necessarily mean
that they will feel better.
In terms of the biological effort,
using these strategies does not
affect our BGL but leads to a
significant increase in mental effort
as this is inferred via HRV.
Contrary to expectations, however,
implementation intentions did not
confer an advantage in terms of
HRV and thus mental effort when
compared with instructed
1. Gross, J., & Levenson, R. W. (1997). Hiding Feelings: the acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of
Abnormal Psychology, 106, 95-103.
2. Segerstrom, S. C. & Solberg L. (2007). Heart rate variability reflects self regulatory strength, effort and fatigue. Psychological
Science, 18, 275-281.
Figure 1: Participants expressive behaviour as measured via
recording and coding of facial expressions of disgust
Instructed suppression
Implementing intentions
to suppress
Expressive Behaviour
** P<.001
Instructed suppression
Implementing intentions to suppress
Emotional state
Expressive behaviour
** P<.001
Figure 2: Comparison between Self reports and expressive
behaviour of disgust
Instructed suppression
Implementing intentions to suppress
Blood glucose levels
Initial BGL
Final BGL
Figure 3: Participants average initial and final blood glucose levels for the control, instructed suppression and implementation intentions
Figure 4: Participants Heart Rate Variability change as indicated by rmssd for the control, instructed suppression and implementation
intentions groups.
Instructed suppression
Implementing intentions to suppress
HRV (rmssd)
* P<.05
ER instructions
Film clips
Self report of ES
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Emotion regulation plays a central role in mental health and illness, but little is known about even the most basic forms of emotion regulation. To examine the acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion, we asked 180 female participants to watch sad, neutral, and amusing films under 1 of 2 conditions. Suppression participants (N = 90) inhibited their expressive behavior while watching the films; no suppression participants (N = 90) simply watched the films. Suppression diminished expressive behavior in all 3 films and decreased amusement self-reports in sad and amusing films. Physiologically, suppression had no effect in the neutral film, but clear effects in both negative and positive emotional films, including increased sympathetic activation of the cardiovascular system. On the basis of these findings, we suggest several ways emotional inhibition may influence psychological functioning.
Experimental research reliably demonstrates that self-regulatory deficits are a consequence of prior self-regulatory effort. However, in naturalistic settings, although people know that they are sometimes vulnerable to saying, eating, or doing the wrong thing, they cannot accurately gauge their capacity to self-regulate at any given time. Because self-regulation and autonomic regulation colocalize in the brain, an autonomic measure, heart rate variability (HRV), could provide an index of self-regulatory strength and activity. During an experimental manipulation of self-regulation (eating carrots or cookies), HRV was elevated during high self-regulatory effort (eat carrots, resist cookies) compared with low self-regulatory effort (eat cookies, resist carrots). The experimental manipulation and higher HRV at baseline independently predicted persistence at a subsequent anagram task. HRV appears to index self-regulatory strength and effort, making it possible to study these phenomena in the field as well as the lab.