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Down-Regulation of Love Feelings After a Romantic Break-Up: Self-Report and Electrophysiological Data

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Because remaining love feelings for an ex-partner are negatively associated with recovery from a romantic break-up, it may be helpful to decrease those love feelings. Love regulation is the use of behavioral or cognitive strategies to change the intensity of current feelings of romantic love. This study evaluated three regulation strategies: (1) negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, (2) reappraisal of love feelings, and (3) distraction. It was tested how these regulation strategies change love feelings for the ex-partner, valence of affect, and motivated attention for the ex-partner. Participants who were upset about a romantic break-up performed these regulation strategies before passively viewing a picture of their ex-partner, during which their electroencephalogram was recorded. Negative reappraisal decreased love feelings and made participants feel more unpleasant. Love reappraisal did not change how in love or pleasant/unpleasant participants felt. Distraction did not change love feelings but made participants feel more pleasant. This suggests that in the context of a romantic break-up, negative reappraisal is an effective love down-regulation strategy, whereas distraction is an effective positive emotion up-regulation strategy. Furthermore, all three strategies decreased motivated attention for the ex-partner, as indicated by a reduced amplitude of the late positive potential. This reduced motivated attention for the ex-partner could make it easier to deal with encounters of (reminders of) the ex-partner. Love regulation is a promising phenomenon with important everyday life and clinical implications. (PsycINFO Database Record
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Langeslag, S.J.E & Sanchez, M.E. (in press). Down-regulation of love feelings after a romantic
break-up: self-report and electrophysiological data. Journal of Experimental Psychology:
General. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000360
Authors’ affiliation:
Department of Psychological Sciences, University of MissouriSt. Louis
Corresponding author:
Sandra J.E. Langeslag, Ph.D.
University of Missouri - St. Louis
Department of Psychological Sciences
417 Stadler Hall
One University Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63121-4499
Email: langeslags@umsl.edu
Phone: +1-314-516-5395
Fax: +1-314-516-5392
© 2017, American Psychological Association. This paper is not the copy of record and may
not exactly replicate the final, authoritative version of the article. Please do not copy or cite
without authors permission. The final article will be available, upon publication, via its
DOI: 10.1037/xge0000360
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Abstract
Because remaining love feelings for an ex-partner are negatively associated with recovery from a
romantic break-up, it may be helpful to decrease those love feelings. Love regulation is the use
of behavioral or cognitive strategies to change the intensity of current feelings of romantic love.
This study evaluated three regulation strategies: 1) negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, 2)
reappraisal of love feelings, and 3) distraction. It was tested how these regulation strategies
change love feelings for the ex-partner, valence of affect, and motivated attention for the ex-
partner. Participants who were upset about a romantic break-up performed these regulation
strategies before passively viewing a picture of their ex-partner, during which their
electroencephalogram was recorded. Negative reappraisal decreased love feelings and made
participants feel more unpleasant. Love reappraisal did not change how in love or
pleasant/unpleasant participants felt. Distraction did not change love feelings, but made
participants feel more pleasant. This suggests that in the context of a romantic break-up, negative
reappraisal is an effective love down-regulation strategy, while distraction is an effective positive
emotion up-regulation strategy. Furthermore, all three strategies decreased motivated attention
for the ex-partner, as indicated by a reduced amplitude of the late positive potential. This reduced
motivated attention for the ex-partner could make it easier to deal with encounters of (reminders
of) the ex-partner. Love regulation is a promising phenomenon with important everyday life and
clinical implications.
Keywords: Love regulation; relationship dissolution; romantic love; late positive potential;
heartbreak
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Introduction
Romantic break-ups are very common (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002; Carver, Joyner, & Udry,
2003) and elicit negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and shame (Baumeister, Wotman, &
Stillwell, 1993; Leary, Koch, & Hechenbleikner, 2001). Even though such negative emotions
following a break-up may seem normative, romantic break-ups can have serious consequences
including insomnia, reduced immune function, broken heart syndrome, depression, and suicide
(T. Field, 2011; Monroe, Rohde, Seeley, & Lewinsohn, 1999; Skopp, Zhang, Smolenski, &
Reger, 2016). The literature on romantic relationships and social rejection suggests several
strategies to cope with a romantic break-up, including reducing negative cognitions about oneself
(Boelen & Reijntjes, 2009), recovering the self-concept (Larson & Sbarra, 2015; Mason, Law,
Bryan, Portley, & Sbarra, 2012), focusing on personal growth (Tashiro & Frazier, 2003), and
taking acetaminophen (DeWall et al., 2010). It is not uncommon for people to still have love
feelings for their ex-partner (H. E. Fisher, Brown, Aron, Strong, & Mashek, 2010; Langeslag &
Van Strien, 2016), which is positively associated with sadness (Sbarra & Ferrer, 2006) and
negatively associated with self-concept recovery (Mason et al., 2012). Therefore, another way to
cope with a romantic break-up may be to decrease the intensity of love feelings for the ex-
partner.
Love regulation is “the use of behavioral or cognitive strategies to change the intensity of
current feelings of romantic love” (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016, p. 2). Love regulation is
closely related to the well-established concept of emotion regulation (Gross, 2002, 2013). In
natural language, love is often considered to be an emotion (Fehr & Russell, 1984; P. Shaver,
Schwartz, Kirson, & O'Connor, 1987). Even though some researchers also consider love to be an
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emotion (P. R. Shaver, Morgan, & Wu, 1996), other researchers have argued that love is not an
emotion, for several reasons. To start with, there are different types of love (Berscheid, 2010; H.
E. Fisher, 1998; Hatfield, 1988; Sternberg, 1986), including infatuation (or passionate love) and
attachment (or companionate love). Infatuation is the overwhelming, amorous feeling for one
individual that is typically most intense during the early stage of love, while attachment is the
comforting feeling of emotional bonding with another individual that takes some time to develop
(H. E. Fisher, 1998; Hatfield, 1988; Langeslag, Muris, & Franken, 2013). There being different
types of love is one reason to assume that love as a whole is not an emotion (Langeslag, 2006).
Because the word ‘love’ does not have a plural form, we use the term ‘love feelings’ to describe
the collection of different love types. Please note that the term ‘feeling’ does not necessarily refer
to an emotion (Thoits, 1989). There are also reasons to assume that the individual types of love
are not emotions either. That is, love feelings elicit different emotions depending on the
situation. Reciprocated infatuation, for example, may elicit the emotion joy (H. E. Fisher, Aron,
Mashek, Li, & Brown, 2002), while unreciprocated infatuation may elicit the emotion sadness
(Leary et al., 2001). This example also shows that love feelings are not inherently pleasant or
unpleasant. Valence is the term used to describe (un)pleasantness (Russell, 2003). Another
reason why love feelings are not emotions is that love feelings can be very long lasting, whereas
emotions are usually shorter lasting. For example, it is not uncommon for infatuation to last for
weeks or months and for attachment to last for years or decades (Hatfield, Pillemer, O’Brien, &
Le, 2008; Langeslag et al., 2013), whereas emotions typically last for a half hour up to several
days (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2015). Instead of an emotion, some researchers have classified love
as an attitude (Rubin, 1970) or a script (Skolnick, 1987). Other researchers, including us, classify
love feelings as motivations (or drives) (such as craving, lust, hunger, and thirst) (Aron & Aron,
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2016; H. Fisher, Aron, & Brown, 2005; Lamy, 2016; Langeslag, 2006). So, even though love
and emotion regulation are closely related, they are conceptually different in the sense that love
regulation targets love feelings (such as infatuation and attachment), while emotion regulation
targets emotions (such as joy, sadness, fear, and anger) (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). It has
been shown that even though people generally think that love feelings cannot be regulated, love
regulation is actually feasible (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016).
Cognitive reappraisal is a well-known emotion regulation strategy that entails
reinterpreting the emotional stimulus (Gross, 2002; Ochsner & Gross, 2005). For example, after
receiving a job application rejection, you could remind yourself that the salary was very low in
order to feel less sad about the rejection. In a meta-analysis, cognitive reappraisal was shown to
be effective for regulating emotions (Webb, Miles, & Sheeran, 2012) and it is considered
beneficial for mental and social functioning (Gross, 2002; Gross & John, 2003). Reappraisal of
emotional stimuli is an important aspect of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which is a common
treatment of emotional disorders (Hofmann & Asmundson, 2008). Several studies have shown
that cognitive reappraisal is also effective for regulating motivations such as food and drug
craving. For example, non-dieting women reported decreased food craving after thinking about
the negative consequences of eating the presented food than after thinking about its delicious
smell, taste, and texture (Siep et al., 2012). Likewise, when alcohol-dependent and social
drinkers were instructed to think about the long-term negative consequences of repeated
consumption of depicted alcoholic beverages, subjective craving decreased in both groups
(Nagvi et al., 2015). Finally, cigarette smokers reported reduced cigarette and food craving after
thinking about the long-term consequences of smoking and eating high-fat foods compared to
when thinking about the immediate feelings associated with smoking or eating (Kober et al.,
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2010). So, reminding yourself of the negative qualities of your ex-partner might decrease your
love feelings and help you feel less bad about the break-up. In a previous study (Langeslag &
Van Strien, 2016), participants indeed reported to use such negative reappraisal when they were
heartbroken. In addition, in a love regulation task, infatuation and attachment were decreased by
thinking about negative aspects of the beloved or the relationship, or imagining negative future
scenarios. This shows that negative reappraisal of the situation is an effective love regulation
strategy. Because participants were free to choose between three strategies (i.e., negative
reappraisal of the beloved, the relationship, or the future), it remains unclear which of those is
effective for decreasing love feelings.
If love down-regulation would help people cope with a break-up, then it would be
expected that decreasing love feelings after a break-up would make people feel better. In the
previous study, however, participants who had recently experienced a romantic break-up felt
more unpleasant after negative reappraisal than after no regulation (Langeslag & Van Strien,
2016). It is likely that love down-regulation by negative reappraisal has the short-term effect of
making people feel more unpleasant because it involves thinking negative thoughts. Even though
this adverse effect of negative reappraisal was unexpected and awaits replication, it does indicate
that love down-regulation after a break-up is not just the down-regulation of negative emotions.
Importantly, it has been shown that frequent thoughts about negative aspects of the ex-partner or
the relationship are positively associated with recovery of the self (Brenner & Vogel, 2015),
which suggests that negative reappraisal may be an adaptive strategy to cope with a break-up
despite the short-term adverse effect.
Another form of cognitive reappraisal involves reappraising the emotion rather than the
emotional stimulus (Webb et al., 2012). For example, after receiving a job application rejection,
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you could tell yourself that it is normal to feel sad and accept that sadness without judgement.
Reappraisal of emotions is part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and
mindfulness, and works by counteracting maladaptive response-focused emotion regulation
strategies such as suppression (Gross & John, 2003; Hofmann & Asmundson, 2008). Meta-
analyses showed that reappraisal of emotions is effective for regulating emotions (Webb et al.,
2012) and that mindfulness treatment is effective for decreasing drug craving and drug use (Li,
Howard, Garland, McGovern, & Lazar, 2017). In one study, the effect of mindfulness treatment
on drug craving was mediated by a latent factor representing acceptance, awareness, and
nonjudgment (Witkiewitz, Bowen, Douglas, & Hsu, 2013), which suggests that reappraisal of
emotions was the underlying mechanism. So, telling yourself that it is normal to still love your
ex-partner and to accept those love feelings without judgement might decrease your love feelings
and help you feel less bad about the break-up. A previous study has shown that a combination of
Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation reduced rumination associated with a romantic break-up
(Harris, 2015). To our knowledge, it has not yet been tested whether reappraisal of love feelings
for an ex-partner decreases love feelings.
Distraction is an emotion regulation strategy that involves performing a distracting
secondary task to limit attention to emotional stimuli (Ochsner & Gross, 2005). For example,
after receiving a job application rejection you could play a video game to distract yourself. In a
meta-analysis, distraction was found to be effective for regulating emotions (Webb et al., 2012),
although it might be maladaptive in the long term (Thiruchselvama, Blecherta, Sheppes,
Rydstromb, & Gross, 2011). Several studies have shown that distraction is effective for
regulating motivations as well. For example, distraction reduced food craving (Van Dillen &
Andrade, 2016) and interest in alternative romantic partners (Van Dillen, Papies, & Hofmann,
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2013). So, playing a video game or watching a movie to distract yourself from a break-up might
decrease love feelings and help you feel less bad about the break-up, at least in the short term. In
the previous study, many participants reported to use distraction when they were heartbroken
(Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). To our knowledge, it has not yet been tested whether distraction
decreases love feelings for an ex-partner.
Emotions and emotion regulation have been studied extensively using event-related
potentials (ERPs). The late positive potential (LPP) reflects multiple, overlapping positivities
over the posterior scalp beginning in the time range of the classic P300, i.e., around 300 ms after
stimulus onset. Because the LPP amplitude is typically enhanced for both negative and positive
compared to neutral stimuli (Hajcak, Weinberg, MacNamara, & Foti, 2011), it is considered to
be modulated by arousal (i.e., intensity) rather than valence. The LPP amplitude is thought to
reflect motivated attention for emotional information (Schupp, Flaisch, Stockburger, &
Junghöfer, 2006). The LPP is enhanced in response to pictures of the beloved (Langeslag,
Franken, & Van Strien, 2008; Langeslag, Jansma, Franken, & Van Strien, 2007). This effect
occurred regardless of whether people were in a relationship with their beloved or whether the
relationship had ended (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016), which shows that people typically still
display motivated attention for their ex-partner. Several mental disorders involve increased
attention for disorder-related information. For example, depression patients have increased
attention for negative information (Everaert, Koster, & Derakshan, 2012), social phobia patients
have increased attention for socially threatening information (Musa & Lépine, 2000), and
substance use disorder patients have increased attention for substance-related information (M.
Field & Cox, 2008). Because this increased attention has been linked to the maintenance of these
disorders, some treatments focus on reducing the increased attention for disorder-related
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information (Hakamata et al., 2010). Therefore, reducing motivated attention for an ex-partner
may be helpful after a romantic break-up.
Importantly, the LPP amplitude is modulated by emotion regulation instructions
according to the regulatory goal: emotion up-regulation typically enhances the LPP amplitude,
whereas emotion down-regulation typically reduces it (Hajcak, MacNamara, & Olvet, 2010).
This shows that emotion regulation reduces motivated attention for emotional information. In the
previous study (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016), love down-regulation by negative reappraisal of
the beloved, the relationship, and/or the future reduced the LPP amplitude, albeit more in
participants who were in a relationship with their beloved rather than in participants who had
experienced a break-up (because the latter group had greater individual variability). The reduced
LPP due to love down-regulation shows that negative reappraisal decreased motivated attention
for the beloved, which may help people recover from a romantic break-up.
The current study aimed to extend the findings of the previous love regulation study
(Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016) in several ways. First, to increase specificity and to avoid any
effects of strategy selection (Baur, Conzelmann, Wieser, & Pauli, 2015), this study focused on
negative reappraisal of the ex-partner rather than letting participants choose freely between
negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, the relationship, or the future. Second, besides negative
reappraisal of the ex-partner (hereafter: negative reappraisal), we also evaluated the strategies
reappraisal of love feelings (hereafter: love reappraisal), and distraction. Third, to reduce demand
characteristics (Orne, 1962), participants were never informed that the goal was to decrease love
feelings. Fourth, in order to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of self-report data, we used an
event-related design rather than a blocked design (cf. Moser, Krompinger, Dietz, & Simons,
2009; Moser, Most, & Simons, 2010), which allowed us to collect love and valence ratings at the
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end of each trial. Finally, participants performed regulation before viewing a picture of the ex-
partner rather than during picture presentation. This task mimics daily life situations in which
people regulate their feelings at one point and subsequently encounter (stimuli related to) the ex-
partner. This task was based on previous emotion regulation studies that have shown that
presenting descriptions that make a subsequent picture more or less emotional changes the
emotional response and the LPP amplitude in response to that picture (Foti & Hajcak, 2008;
MacNamara, Foti, & Hajcak, 2009; Peng, Qu, Gu, & Luo, 2013).
The first research question of the current study was: are negative reappraisal, love
reappraisal, and distraction effective for down-regulating love feelings after a romantic break-
up? Based on the previous research described above, it was hypothesized that all three regulation
strategies would decrease love feelings. Because love is not inherently positive or negative, it is
important to assess the effect of different regulation strategies on pleasantness. Therefore, the
second research question was: how do negative reappraisal, love reappraisal, and distraction after
a romantic break-up modulate the valence of affect? We expected to replicate the previous
finding that negative reappraisal made people feel more unpleasant (Langeslag & Van Strien,
2016). Love reappraisal, in contrast, was expected to have no effect on valence because the love
reappraisal thoughts are neutral. And, because the distraction strategy in the current study
involved thinking about positive things, it was hypothesized that distraction would make people
feel more pleasant.
The final research question was: how do negative reappraisal, love reappraisal, and
distraction influence motivated attention for the ex-partner, as indicated by the LPP amplitude?
Based on the previous study (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016), we hypothesized that negative
reappraisal would decrease the LPP amplitude in response to a picture of the ex-partner. In
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another study, emotion reappraisal initially enhanced the LPP in response to emotional stimuli,
but reduced the LPP when stimuli were repeated (Uusberg, Uusberg, Talpsep, & Paaver, 2016).
Each picture in the current study depicted the ex-partner, which essentially resulted in a
repetition of the ex-partner, so it was expected that the net result would be that love reappraisal
would reduce the LPP amplitude. Finally, based on previous emotion regulation studies that have
shown that distraction reduces the LPP amplitude (Littel & Franken, 2011; Schönfelder, Kanske,
Heissler, & Wessa, 2013; Shafir, Schwartz, Blechert, & Sheppes, 2015), it was expected that
distraction would reduce the LPP amplitude as well. Reduced LPP amplitudes after regulation
would imply that regulation reduced the motivated attention for the ex-partner.
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Methods
Participants
Twenty-four participants (M = 27.8, SD = 5.6, range = 20-37 yrs, 4 men) were recruited
from the University of Missouri - St. Louis and through Craigslist. Sample size was based
on power analyses using G*Power 3.1.9.2 (Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007). The
effect sizes of negative reappraisal on self-reported love feelings in the previous study
(Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016) were large: for infatuation Cohen’s d = -1.01 and for
attachment Cohen’s d = -1.23. A power analysis showed that a sample size of 10 would
yield 80% power to detect effects with Cohen’s d = 1.01 with a two-sided significance
level of 5%. However, to account for the possibility that the effects of love reappraisal
and distraction would be smaller, and because ERP studies typically have at least 20
participants, a larger sample size was used. A power analysis showed that a sample size
of 24 would yield a power of 80% to detect effects with Cohen’s d = 0.60 with a two-
sided significance level of 5%, so that is the sample size we used.
Only participants who had experienced a romantic break-up and were upset about
it, as indicated by a score of two or higher on the question “how upset are you about the
break-up?” (see below), were included. Additional inclusion criteria, which were
assessed by self-report over email or the phone, were: normal or corrected-to-normal
vision, no neurological or psychiatric disorders, and no current use of medications known
to affect the central nervous system. All participants were right-handed as determined by
a handedness questionnaire (Bryden, 1982). The study was approved by the University of
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Missouri - St. Louis institutional review board. Participants provided written informed
consent and were compensated with course credit or $40.
Stimuli
Participants provided 28 digital pictures of their ex-partner. There were no requirements other
than that the pictures had to contain the ex-partner and had to be non-intimate/non-explicit (for
ethical reasons). Therefore, the pictures could display parts of the ex-partner (e.g., just the face)
or the whole body of the ex-partner, people other than the ex-partner, a variety of facial
expressions, objects, and scenery (cf. Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). These pictures were used
to mimic reminders of the ex-partner (e.g., pictures on social media) as well as real life
encounters with the ex-partner. It is important to note that the variety of information on the
pictures does not confound the regulation effects, because each picture was presented in each
regulation condition.
Procedure
Participants first completed some general questions about the ex-partner and the relationship (cf.
Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). Participants reported their ex-partner’s gender, and how in love
they currently felt with the ex-partner on a 9-point scale (1 = not in love at all, 9 = very much in
love). They also reported the duration of the relationship, as well as the status (married,
cohabitating, not cohabitating) and the quality (1 = very bad, 9 = very good). Participants also
reported the time since break up and who ended the relationship (participant, ex-partner, joint
decision). Finally, participants reported how upset they currently were about the break-up on a 9-
point scale (1 = not upset at all, 9 = very upset).
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Next, participants completed the new Love Control Questionnaire II (LCQ-II)
(Chronbach’s alpha = .81), which was modified from our previous Love Control Questionnaire
(LCQ) (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). Where the previous LCQ assesses perceived control of
love feelings regardless of the regulation direction, the new LCQ-II assesses perceived ability to
up- and down-regulate love feelings separately. Only the items concerning love down-regulation
are reported, because that is the topic of the current study. Like the previous LCQ, items
measured the perceived ability to regulate love in general, and infatuation and attachment
specifically. Items were also phrased to measure one’s perceived ability to regulate one’s own
love feelings and the perceived ability of others to regulate their love feelings. Participants rated
their agreement with the statements on a 9-point scale (1 = totally disagree, 9 = totally agree).
Then, participants completed the Infatuation and Attachment Scales (IAS) (Langeslag et al.,
2013) (Chronbach’s alpha = .85) to assess the current intensity of infatuation and attachment for
their ex-partner. The average score on each of the IAS scales can range from 1 to 7. Finally,
participants completed the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (Gross & John, 2003)
(Chronbach’s alpha = .82) to assess habitual use of reappraisal and suppression to regulate
emotions.
Then, participants completed a love regulation task while their electroencephalogram
(EEG) was recorded. There were four conditions: 1) negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, 2)
reappraisal of love feelings, 3) distraction, and 4) no regulation. Each trial consisted of a
regulation prompt (see below) for five seconds, a fixation cross jittered for 500-700 milliseconds,
a picture of the ex-partner for one second, love and valence ratings until responses were made,
and a blank screen for one second, see Fig. 1.
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The regulation prompts in the negative reappraisal condition were questions about
negative aspects of the ex-partner (e.g., What is an annoying habit of your ex?). Participants
were instructed to silently think about the answer to the question while it was presented on the
screen. The regulation prompts in the love reappraisal condition were statements that
reinterpreted love feelings, for example by accepting them without judgement (e.g.It's ok to
love someone I’m no longer with.”). Participants were instructed to repeatedly and silently read
the statement and to try to believe it for the duration it was presented on the screen. The
regulation prompts in the distraction condition were questions about positive things unrelated to
the break-up or ex-partner (e.g., What is your favorite food? Why?). Participants were instructed
to silently think about the answer to the question while it was presented on the screen. There
were 28 different prompts per condition, see Appendix A, and each prompt was presented once.
In the no regulation condition, the prompt consisted of three asterisks and participants were not
instructed to think about anything in particular.
After the regulation prompt and the fixation cross, a picture of the ex-partner was
presented and participants were instructed to passively view it. Participants were asked to limit
movements and to try not to blink during the presentation of the fixation cross and the picture.
After each picture, participants used sliders to complete love (i.e., how in love they felt) and
valence (i.e., how negative or positive they felt) ratings. The love slider ranged from “not at all”
on the left to “completely” on the right and the valence slider ranged from “negative” on the left
to “positive” on the right. The use of a slider yielded continuous measures of subjective love
feelings and valence, which allows for the detection of more subtle effects of regulation than the
5-point scale used in our previous study (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). To reduce the effect of
anchoring bias, which is the tendency of people to make insufficient adjustments from an initial
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starting point (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974), the starting position of the slider was varied
between trials. This also reduced the ability of participants to deliberately select the same
response as, or a different response than a previous trial. The starting positions of the sliders
were balanced between conditions to prevent them from confounding regulation effects.
The love regulation task consisted of a practice block and four main blocks. In the
practice block, participants performed four practice trials (one of each condition) with prompts
and pictures that were not used in the main blocks. The main blocks consisted of seven trials of
each condition, for a total of 28 trials per block. Trials were presented in a pseudorandom order
with no more than two trials of the same condition in a row. Each ex-partner picture was
presented once in each block, which ensured that the regulation effects were not confounded by
ERP old/new effects (Rugg & Allan, 2000).
After completion of the love regulation task, participants completed a likelihood of
strategy use questionnaire. Participants indicated how likely they were to use negative
reappraisal (i.e., “Think of some negative aspect of my ex” and “Talk negatively about my ex”),
love reappraisal (i.e., “Accept my love feelings without judgement” and “Tell myself that it’s ok
to still love my ex”), and distraction (i.e., “Do something fun to distract myself and “Think of
something pleasant to distract myself”), when they are heartbroken on a 4-point scale (1 = very
unlikely, 2 = somewhat unlikely, 3 = somewhat likely, 4 = very likely).
Electroencephalogram (EEG) recording and signal processing
The EEG was recorded using a 32-channel amplifier and data acquisition software (ActiveTwo
System, BioSemi). The 32 Ag-AgCl active electrodes were connected to the scalp through a head
cap (BioSemi), according to the 10–20 International System (Fp1/2, AF3/4, Fz, F3/ 4, F7/8,
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FC1/2, FC5/6, Cz, C3/4, T7/8, CP1/2, CP5/6, Pz, P3/4, P7/8, PO3/4, Oz, O1/2). Vertical
electrooculogram (VEOG) and horizontal electrooculogram (HEOG) were recorded by attaching
additional electrodes (UltraFlat Active electrodes, BioSemi) above and below the left eye, and at
the outer canthi of both eyes. Additionally, two electrodes were placed on the left and right
mastoids (M1/2). An active electrode (CMS - common mode sense) and a passive electrode
(DRL - driven right leg) were used to comprise a feedback loop for amplifier reference. Signals
were digitized with a sampling rate of 512 Hz, a 24-bit A/D conversion, and a low pass filter of
134 Hz.
Data were analyzed with BrainVision Analyzer 2 (Brain Products, Gilching, Germany).
A maximum of one bad electrode per participant was corrected using spherical spline
topographic interpolation. Offline, an average mastoids reference was applied because that is the
preferred reference when studying the emotional modulation of the LPP (Hajcak et al., 2011).
The data were filtered using a 0.10-30 Hz band pass filter (phase shift-free Butterworth filters; 24
dB/octave slope) and a 60 Hz notch filter. Data were segmented in epochs from 200 ms before
the onset of the ex-partner picture until 1000 ms post-picture onset. Ocular artifact correction
was applied semi-automatically according to Gratton, Coles, and Donchin (1983). The mean 200
ms pre-stimulus period was used for baseline correction. Artifact rejection was performed at
individual electrodes with a baseline-to-peak minimum and maximum criterion of -75 to +75 μV.
At least 12 trials are needed to obtain a reliable emotional modulation of the LPP (Moran,
Jendrusina, & Moser, 2013). Every participant had at least 22 trials available in each regulation
condition at each of the nine electrodes included in the analyses (see below), so no participants
had to be excluded. At the electrodes used in the analyses, the average number of accepted trials
per condition ranged from 27.5 to 27.9 out of 28.
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Statistical analyses
For the love and valence ratings, the slider responses were converted to a value ranging from 0
(i.e., far left) to 100 (i.e., far right). Love and valence ratings were analyzed using repeated
measures analyses of variance (rmANOVAs) with the factor Condition (negative reappraisal,
love reappraisal, distraction, no regulation). The LPP in response to the ex-partner picture was
quantified by a mean amplitude measure in a 400-1000 ms time window (cf. Zhang, Li, Qin, &
Luo, 2012). Mean amplitude measures at electrodes F3, Fz, F4, C3, Cz, C4, P3, Pz, and P4 for
each condition were submitted to a rmANOVA with factors Condition (negative reappraisal,
love reappraisal, distraction, no regulation), Caudality (frontal, central, parietal), and Laterality
(left, midline, right). Only effects involving the factor Condition are reported because those are
relevant to the research questions. The mean score on the down-regulation items of the LCQ-II
was subjected to a one-sample t-test against 5, to test if it differed from neutral. In addition, the
LCQ-II down-regulation item scores were analyzed using an rmANOVA with the factors Person
(self, people) and Feeling (love, infatuation, attachment). The mean negative reappraisal, love
reappraisal, and distraction scores on the likelihood of strategy use questionnaire were subjected
to one-sample t-tests against 2.5 (= midpoint of the scale) to test if participants were unlikely or
likely to use that particular strategy.
When applicable, degrees of freedom were corrected with the Greenhouse–Geisser
correction. The F values, the uncorrected dfs, the epsilon (ε) values, corrected probability levels,
and effect sizes p2) are reported. A significance level of 5% (two-sided) was selected and
Fisher’s least significance difference (LSD) procedure was applied. This procedure controls type
I error rate by conducting follow-up tests for significant main and interaction effects only. The
follow-up tests were planned paired-samples t-tests comparing each of the three regulation
19
conditions with the no regulation condition, because those comparisons were relevant to the
research questions. Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) are reported for all t-tests.
20
Results
Participant characteristics
Twenty-two participants (91.7%) had an opposite-sex ex-partner and two female participants
(8.3%) had a same-sex ex-partner. The average relationship duration was 31.2 months (SD =
27.8, range = 2.0-96.0) and average quality of the relationship was 6.5 (SD = 1.6, range = 3.0-
9.0). Three participants (12.5%) had been married to their ex-partner, six participants (25.0%)
had been cohabitating with but had not been married to their ex-partner, and 15 participants
(62.5%) had not been married to or cohabitating with their ex-partner. The average time since the
break-up was 6.0 months (SD = 10.0, range = 0.3-50.0). Eight break-ups (33.3%) had been
initiated by the ex-partner, ten (41.7%) by the participant, and six break-ups (25.0%) had been a
joint decision. The mean ERQ reappraisal score was 5.0 (SD = 1.0) and the mean ERQ
suppression score was 3.4 (SD = 1.3).
The mean rating of how upset participants were about the break-up was 6.5 out of 9 (SD
= 2.0, range = 3.0-9.0). These data confirms that all participants were upset about a romantic
break-up to some degree at the time of the testing session and show that the average heartbreak
intensity was medium-high. The mean intensity of love for the ex-partner was 5.6 out of 9 (SD =
1.8, range = 2.0-8.0), the mean IAS infatuation score was 4.2 out of 7 (SD = 1.3, range = 2.2-
6.0), and the mean IAS attachment score was 3.8 out of 7 (SD = 1.2, range = 1.2-6.7). These data
show that participants experienced medium levels of love for their ex-partner at the time of the
testing session.
Self-reported love intensity correlated positively with the IAS attachment score, r(22) =
.56, p = .005. The correlation between self-reported love intensity and the IAS infatuation score
21
was in the same direction but was not significant, r(22) = .28, p = .19. This suggests that a one-
item assessment of ‘love’ is a proxy of feelings of attachment. Importantly, the degree to which
participants were upset about the break-up correlated positively with self-reported love intensity,
r(22) = .72, p < .001, the mean IAS infatuation score, r(22) = .56, p = .005, and the mean IAS
attachment score, r(22) = .62, p = .001. This suggests that the more intense the love feelings
(both infatuation and attachment) for the ex-partner, the more upset about the break-up
participants were.
Love and valence ratings
See Fig. 2 for the love and valence ratings. For the love ratings, the main effect of Condition was
significant, F(3,69) = 18.6, ε = .60, p < .001, ηp2 = .45. Follow-up tests showed that participants
felt less in love after negative reappraisal than after no regulation, p < .001, Cohen’s d = -0.96.
Love reappraisal did not change love feelings compared to no regulation, p = .23, Cohen’s d =
.25, and neither did distraction, p = .98, Cohen’s d < 0.00. Relationship duration and time since
break-up were not correlated with any of the regulation effects in love ratings, -.16 < all rs(22) <
.29, all ps > .17.
For the valence ratings, there was a main effect of Condition as well, F(3,69) = 19.8, ε =
.64, p < .001, ηp2 = .46. Follow-up tests showed that participants felt more unpleasant after
negative reappraisal than after no regulation, p < .001, Cohen’s d = -0.88, but more pleasant after
distraction than after no regulation, p = .010, Cohen’s d = 0.57. Love reappraisal did not change
how pleasant participants felt compared to no regulation, p = .97, Cohen’s d = -0.01.
In the negative reappraisal condition, the change in love ratings was positively correlated
with the change in valence ratings, r(22) = .60, p = .002. This implies that the more love feelings
22
decreased as a result of negative reappraisal, the more unpleasant participant felt as a result of
negative reappraisal. The change love ratings did not correlate with the change in valence ratings
in the love reappraisal condition, r(22) = .32, p = .14, or the distraction condition, r(22) = -.09, p
= .68.
Event-related potentials
See Fig. 3 for the ERPs in response to the ex-partner picture at the midline electrodes and Fig. 4
for the scalp topographies of the regulation effects. In the 400-1000 ms time window, the
Condition * Caudality interaction was significant, F(6,138) = 6.6, ε = .42, p = .001, ηp2 = .22,
which was modulated by a significant Condition * Caudality * Laterality interaction, F(12,276)
= 2.1, ε = .62, p = .046, ηp2 = .08. Follow-up tests revealed that the ERP in response to the ex-
partner picture was less positive after negative reappraisal than after no regulation at all three
parietal electrodes, all ps < .040, all Cohen’s ds < -0.44. In addition, the ERP in response to the
ex-partner picture was less positive after love reappraisal than after no regulation at lateral
parietal electrodes, both ps < .037, both Cohen’s ds < -0.45. Lastly, the ERP in response to the
ex-partner picture was less positive after distraction than after no regulation at all three parietal
electrodes and at electrode C3, all ps < .042, all Cohen’s ds < -0.44. Relationship duration and
time since break-up were not correlated with any of the regulation effects averaged across
electrodes P3, Pz, and P4, -.30 < all rs(22) < .09, all ps > .16. To summarize, all three regulation
strategies decreased the ERP between 400-1000 ms at parietal electrodes.
23
Perceived ability to down-regulate love
The mean score on the love down-regulation items of the LCQ-II was 4.8 (SD = 1.3), which was
not significantly different from 5 (= neutral), t(23) = -0.52, p = .61, Cohen’s d = -.011. This
suggests that participants thought that love down-regulation was neither possible, nor impossible.
See Table 1 for the mean score on each of the love down-regulation items of the LCQ-II. The
main effect of Person was significant, F(1,23) = 8.9, p = .007, ηp2 = .28, which indicated that
participant felt they were worse at love down-regulation than people in general. The main effect
of Feeling was significant as well, F(2,46) = 5.4, ε = .98, p = .008, ηp2 = .19. Follow-up tests
showed that participants thought it was easier to down-regulate attachment than love feelings in
general, p = .006, Cohen’s d = 0.63, with down-regulation of infatuation non-significantly
different in-between, both ps > .096, both Cohen’s ds < 0.36.
Likelihood of strategy use
The mean score on the negative reappraisal items of the likelihood of strategy use questionnaire
was 3.0 (SD = 0.7), which was significantly higher than 2.5 (= midpoint of the scale), t(23) = 3.5,
p = .002, Cohen’s d = 0.72. The likelihood of using negative reappraisal of the ex-partner when
heartbroken did not correlate with the habitual use of reappraisal for regulating emotions as
indicated by the ERQ reappraisal score, r(22) = -.23, p = .28. The mean score on the love
reappraisal items was 2.5 (SD = 0.7), which was not significantly different from 2.5, t(23) = 0.30,
p = .77, Cohen’s d = 0.06. Finally, the mean score on the distraction items was 3.3 (SD = 0.6),
which was significantly higher than 2.5, t(23) = 6.6, p < .001, Cohen’s d = 1.35. In short,
participants were likely to use negative reappraisal and distraction, but were neither likely nor
unlikely to use love reappraisal.
24
Discussion
This study focused on three different regulation strategies that could be used after a romantic
break-up: 1) negative reappraisal of the ex-partner (hereafter: negative reappraisal), 2)
reappraisal of love feelings (hereafter: love reappraisal), and 3) distraction. Our goal was to test
the effects of these three regulation strategies on love feelings for the ex-partner, valence of
affect, and motivated attention for the ex-partner. Participants who were upset about a romantic
break-up performed these three regulation strategies and no regulation before passively viewing
a picture of their ex-partner. This task mimicked everyday life in the sense that people may
encounter (reminders of) their ex-partner after regulating love feelings.
In a previous study, relationship duration and time since break-up were not associated
with how upset people were about a romantic break-up, but whether the participant initiated the
break-up or not was (Wrape, Jenkins, Callahan, & Nowlin, 2016). In the current study,
relationship duration, time since break-up, and who initiated the break-up varied greatly between
participants, but relationship duration and time since break-up were not associated with any of
the regulation effects on love ratings or the LPP amplitude discussed below. Importantly, all
participants were upset to some degree about the break-up at the time of the testing session.
Interestingly, the more participants reported to still be experiencing love feelings for their ex-
partner, the more upset about the break-up they reported to be. This corresponds with previous
findings that love feelings for the ex-partner are positively associated with sadness (Sbarra &
Ferrer, 2006) and negatively associated with self-concept recovery (Mason et al., 2012). These
current and previous findings provide support for our suggestion that down-regulation of love
feelings may help people cope with a break-up.
25
In line with the hypothesis, negative reappraisal decreased love feelings, which shows
that negative reappraisal of the ex-partner is an effective love down-regulation strategy. Because
a single item asking about “love” correlated with attachment rather than with infatuation, the
love ratings may have tapped into attachment mostly. Therefore, the current data suggests that
negative reappraisal decreases attachment and are less informative about the effect of negative
reappraisal on infatuation. In a previous study, however, negative reappraisal decreased both
infatuation and attachment (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016), so negative reappraisal appears to
down-regulate several types of love feelings. In that previous study, participants were free to
choose between negative reappraisal of the beloved, the relationship, or the future, so it remained
unclear which of those strategies was effective for love down-regulation. In addition, in the
previous study participants were explicitly instructed to decrease love feelings, which may have
introduced demand characteristics (Orne, 1962). The current finding replicates and extends the
previous finding (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016) by showing that even in the absence of explicit
instructions to decrease love feelings, reappraisal of the beloved specifically is effective for love
down-regulation. Future studies could test whether negative reappraisal of the relationship and/or
imagining negative future scenarios specifically are effective for love down-regulation as well.
Besides reducing love feelings, negative reappraisal also made people feel more
unpleasant, which is a replication of the unexpected effect in the previous study (Langeslag &
Van Strien, 2016). It probably occurs because negative reappraisal involves having negatively-
valenced thoughts. So besides being an effective love down-regulation strategy, negative
reappraisal is also an effective negative emotion up-regulation strategy. This confirms that love
down-regulation after a break-up is not just down-regulation of negative emotions and supports
the notion that love regulation is conceptually distinct from emotion regulation. The changes in
26
love and valence ratings as a result of negative reappraisal were positively correlated. Correlation
does of course not imply causation, but this finding does raise the question whether the change in
love feelings is caused by the change in (un)pleasantness or vice versa. Because love feelings
were positively correlated with how upset participants were about the break-up, it seems unlikely
that a decrease in love feelings would cause people to feel more unpleasant. Even though love is
not inherently pleasant or unpleasant, it seems more plausible that increasing unpleasantness
would cause a decrease in love feelings. This idea could be tested in future studies, for example
by instructing participants to up-regulate negative emotions unrelated to the beloved or the
relationship, and testing whether and how that affects their love feelings.
If negative reappraisal decreases love feelings but increases unpleasantness, it might not
be a helpful strategy to cope with a romantic break-up. Nevertheless, participants reported to be
likely to use negative reappraisal when heartbroken. In the previous study (Langeslag & Van
Strien, 2016), several participants spontaneously reported to use this strategy when they were
heartbroken, albeit more to decrease love feelings than to feel better, which aligns with the
previous and current findings regarding self-reported love and valence. Even though negative
reappraisal may result in negative affect at this moment, it might decrease how upset someone is
about the break-up. Unfortunately, we only assessed how the regulation strategies affected love
and valence rather than how upset participants felt about the break-up. It would be good to add
that outcome variable in future studies about love regulation after a romantic break-up. In
addition, it could be that the reduced love feelings due to negative reappraisal have favorable
long-term effects after a break-up. It has been shown that thinking negative thoughts about the
relationship indeed has adaptive features when recovering from a romantic break-up (Brenner &
27
Vogel, 2015). So, negative reappraisal has an unfavorable short-term effect on affect, but may
have favorable long-term effects when used after a break-up.
In contrast to the hypothesis, love reappraisal did not change love feelings. So even
though emotion reappraisal is an effective emotion regulation strategy (Webb et al., 2012), love
reappraisal does not seem to be an effective love regulation strategy. Because the love rating
probably assessed attachment mainly, it would be interesting to test whether love reappraisal is
effective for decreasing love feelings other than attachment, such as infatuation, in future studies.
Love reappraisal did not change valence either, which was expected because the love reappraisal
prompts induced neutral thoughts. Participants reported to be neither unlikely nor likely to use
love reappraisal, perhaps because it is ineffective and/or less well-known. Perhaps people could
use reappraisal of negative emotions rather than reappraisal of love feelings to cope with a
romantic break-up. For example, you could tell yourself that it is normal to feel sad after a break-
up and try to accept that sadness without judgement. It would be interesting to test in future
studies whether emotion reappraisal would be beneficial after a break-up.
Unexpectedly, distraction did not change how in love people felt with their ex-partner.
Love is a long-lasting state that may still be present when the mind is occupied, which could
explain why distraction does not decrease love feelings. Distraction did make people feel more
pleasant, which was expected because the distraction prompts elicited positively-valenced
thoughts. The dissociation between the effects of distraction on love feelings and valence shows
that changes in (un)pleasantness are not always accompanied by changes in love feelings.
Participants reported to be likely to use distraction when heartbroken. In the previous study,
many participants spontaneously reported to use distraction when they were heartbroken, albeit
more to feel better than to decrease love feelings (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016), which
28
corresponds with the current findings regarding self-reported love and valence. In short, even
though positive distraction may not be an effective love regulation strategy, it is an effective
positive emotion up-regulation strategy. It has been suggested, though, that distraction has
maladaptive long-term effects. For example, although the LPP amplitude is reduced when
participants distract themselves while viewing unpleasant pictures, the LPP amplitude is actually
increased in response to those same pictures when they are shown again later (Thiruchselvama et
al., 2011). Distraction is a form of cognitive avoidance (Moos & Schaefer, 1993) and it has been
shown that a combination of behavioral and cognitive avoidance was associated with the use of
more negative words when describing the break-up (Boals & Klein, 2005) and with feeling more
upset about it (Wrape et al., 2016). Thus, it seems that distraction has favorable short-term
effects on affect, but unfavorable long-term effects when used after a break-up.
All three regulation strategies decreased the ERP amplitude in response to a subsequent
picture of the ex-partner between 400-1000 ms after stimulus onset at parietal electrodes. The
latency and scalp topography of this effect confirms that the regulation strategies decreased the
LPP amplitude (Schupp et al., 2006). The current findings are in line with the general notion that
emotion down-regulation decreases the LPP amplitude in response to emotional information
(Hajcak et al., 2010) and with the previous finding that negative reappraisal decreased the LPP
amplitude in response to a picture of the beloved (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). The current
findings extend those previous findings by showing that negative reappraisal of the ex-partner
specifically decreases the LPP amplitude, that it does so in people who are upset about a
romantic break-up, and that love reappraisal and distraction decrease the LPP amplitude as well.
Because the LPP amplitude reflects motivated attention (Schupp et al., 2006), the current results
show that negative reappraisal, love reappraisal, and distraction reduce motivated attention for
29
the ex-partner. Just like reducing attention for disorder-related information could ameliorate the
disorder (Hakamata et al., 2010), reducing motivated attention for an ex-partner may reduce
heartbreak. For example, the reduced motivated attention for the ex-partner may make it easier to
cope with running into the ex-partner or coming across reminders of the ex-partner, such as
pictures on social media, because those stimuli will now attract less attention.
Because all three regulation strategies decreased the LPP amplitude, it could be that
presenting any prompt before a picture will reduce the LPP amplitude in response to that picture.
That is unlikely though, because presenting positive descriptions before neutral pictures (Peng et
al., 2013) and negative descriptions before unpleasant and neutral pictures (MacNamara et al.,
2009) increased the LPP amplitude in previous studies. Nevertheless, the LPP amplitude
difference between the regulation conditions and the passive viewing condition could have been
confounded by cognitive control. That is, high cognitive load decreases the LPP amplitude to
emotional pictures compared to low cognitive load (MacNamara, Ferri, & Hajcak, 2011) and the
regulation prompts could have increased cognitive load compared to the three asterisks that were
shown in the passive viewing condition. It is unlikely, however, that the decreased LPP in the
current study is (mainly) the result of increased cognitive load, for three reasons. First,
participants were instructed to think about the prompts while they were on the screen and to
subsequently passively view the pictures. Assuming that participants followed the instructions,
cognitive control while viewing the pictures would have been low and comparable between the
regulation and the passive viewing conditions. Second, the negative reappraisal or distraction
conditions may have required more cognitive control than the love reappraisal condition. That is,
the negative reappraisal and distraction prompts were questions that participants had to answer,
while the love reappraisal prompts were statements that participants had to repeat and try to
30
believe. Despite potential differences in cognitive control between the regulation conditions,
additional analyses showed that there were no differences in LPP amplitude between the
regulation conditions1. Third, instructing participants to up-regulate emotions using cognitive
reappraisal typically increases the LPP amplitude (Moser et al., 2009; Moser et al., 2010), even
though it requires cognitive control as well. Future studies could test whether prompts to up-
regulate love feelings increase the LPP amplitude, which would provide additional support for
the idea that the change in LPP amplitude after love regulation reflects motivated attention rather
than cognitive control.
Besides the effects of different regulation strategies on love feelings, valence, and
motivated attention, we also tested participants’ beliefs about love down-regulation. Participants
thought that love down-regulation was neither possible nor impossible, that other people were
better at down-regulating love than they, and that feelings of attachment were easiest to down-
regulate. These findings replicate previous findings about beliefs about love regulation in general
(Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016) and extend those finding by revealing people’s beliefs about
love down-regulation specifically. Importantly, the current and previous study (Langeslag & Van
Strien, 2016) show that people can actually regulate their love feelings using cognitive
reappraisal of the situation, so beliefs that love regulation is impossible are incorrect. Because
people’s beliefs about love regulation will probably influence how likely they are to apply love
regulation in daily life, psychoeducation about the feasibility of love regulation may be needed to
encourage people to perform love regulation in daily life or clinical settings.
One of the strengths of the current study is the experimental manipulation of strategy use.
Rather than assessing associations between spontaneous strategy use and outcome variables
related to recovery from a break-up, we manipulated strategy use within participants in a
31
regulation task and tested how that affected the outcome variables, which allows for
demonstrating causality (Goodwin, 1998). A limitation of manipulating strategy use within
participants, however, is that it only allowed for assessment of the short-term effects of
regulation. In order to evaluate which regulation strategies would best help people cope with a
break-up, it would be essential to consider both the short-term and long-term effects. Another
limitation of the current study is that the majority of participants were women. It was difficult to
recruit men who were upset about a romantic break-up, which could have been due to men being
less upset by romantic break-ups (Wrape et al., 2016) and/or less likely to participate in a study
about heartbreak than women. We had to sacrifice gender balance in favor of reaching the
intended sample size. A meta-analysis has revealed that emotion regulation effects are greater in
women than in men (Webb et al., 2012), so it would be good to test whether there are any gender
differences in love regulation in future studies.
To conclude, because love feelings for an ex-partner are negatively associated with
recovery from a romantic break-up (Mason et al., 2012; Sbarra & Ferrer, 2006), down-regulation
of love feelings for the ex-partner might help people cope with a romantic break-up. In this
study, negative reappraisal of the ex-partner decreased love feelings and made people feel more
unpleasant. Love reappraisal did not change how in love or how unpleasant/pleasant participants
felt. Distraction did not change love feelings either but did make people feel more pleasant. All
three strategies reduced motivated attention for the ex-partner, which may make it easier for
people to deal with encounters of (reminders of) the ex-partner. Despite beliefs that love
regulation was not particularly possible, participants reported to already use negative reappraisal
and distraction when heartbroken. Because different strategies may have different and even
opposing effects on love feelings and/or valence, it would be important for people to use the
32
strategy that has the desired effect rather than a mix of strategies that might cancel each other
out. Notably, down-regulation of love feelings has many more potential applications than just in
the context of a romantic break-up. For example, people may experience unreciprocated love
feelings for someone they have never been in a relationship with. Or, people may be in love with
the ‘wrong’ person, such as someone in a power position at work or school, or someone who is
abusive. Also, people who are happily married sometimes develop an unwanted crush on
someone other than their spouse. Finally, romantic love is valued less in collectivistic compared
to individualistic societies because it plays a smaller role in partner selection (Dion & Dion,
1993; Simmons, Vom Kolke, & Shimizu, 1986). In situations like these, people may want to
decrease the intensity of their love feelings. Love down-regulation could ameliorate heartbreak,
could help people to stop pursuing an inappropriate partner, or could help people to put an end to
a dysfunctional relationship. In addition, it has been show that positive reappraisal of the
situation can increase love feelings (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016), which could be helpful in
functional long-term relationships. It may be clear that the phenomenon of love regulation has
important implications for everyday life and clinical settings and deserves further investigation.
33
Context
Our research program focuses on the interaction between love and cognition. We study how love
influences cognition, such as attention and memory (e.g., Langeslag et al., 2008; Langeslag et al.,
2007; Langeslag, Olivier, Köhlen, Nijs, & Van Strien, 2015). We also study how cognition
influences love (Langeslag, Van der Veen, & Röder, 2014; Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016),
which includes love regulation. The current study is part of that second line of research. We are
currently conducting studies to examine the similarities and differences between love regulation
and emotion regulation in more detail.
34
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Author note
This work was supported by the University of MissouriSt. Louis (UMSL) [College of Arts and
Sciences Research Award]. The funder had no role in the study design, in the collection, analysis
and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for
publication. The ideas and data appearing in the manuscript have been presented in oral and
poster presentations at graduate student competitions at UMSL. In addition, this poster has been
posted on the website and Facebook page of the Neurocognition of Emotion and Motivation Lab
at UMSL.
45
Footnote
1 Paired samples t-tests showed that there were no significant differences between the three
regulation conditions in the ERP amplitude at any of the three parietal electrodes (P3, Pz, and
P4), all ps > .51.
46
Figures
Fig. 1 Trial overview. The slider for the love ratings was labeled “not at all on the left and
“completely” on the right. The slider for the valence ratings was labeled “negative” on the left
and “positive” on the right.
Fig. 2 Mean love and valence ratings, error bars indicate standard errors of the mean. Regulation
strategies were only compared to the no regulation condition, not to each other, * indicates p <
.05
47
Fig. 3 ERPs in response to the ex-partner picture at electrodes Fz, Cz, and Pz, in each the four
regulation conditions. Positive plotted downwards.
48
Fig. 4 Scalp topographies of the regulation effects in the 400-1000 ms time window.
49
Table 1 Mean scores on the love down-regulation items of the new Love Control Questionnaire
(LCQ-II)
Item
M (SD)
I can purposefully decrease how in love I am.
4.1 (2.1)
People can deliberately decrease how in love they are.
4.3 (2.0)
I can reduce the intensity of infatuation at will.
4.0 (1.9)
People can make feelings of infatuation less intense.
5.8 (2.0)
I can make feelings of attachment less intense.
5.2 (2.2)
People can intentionally reduce the intensity of attachment.
5.8 (2.2)
Note. The items were presented to the participants in a pseudorandom order, 1 = totally disagree,
9 = totally agree.
50
Appendix A Regulation prompts
Negative reappraisal of the ex-partner
What is a bad way your ex acted?
What is a bad way your ex behaved?
What is a bad way your ex sounded?
What is a time your ex looked bad?
What is an annoying habit of your ex?
What is a bad personality trait of your ex?
What bad values does your ex have?
What bad belief does your ex have?
What is your ex’s bad habit?
What is a bad way your ex talked to you?
What is a bad way your ex looked at you?
What is something stupid your ex said?
What is something stupid your ex did?
What is something annoying your ex did?
What is something mean your ex did?
What is something mean your ex said?
Who is the annoying friend of your ex?
Who is the annoying family member of your ex?
What is an annoying hobby of your ex?
What is something gross your ex ate?
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What is something dumb your ex thought?
What is something annoying your ex watched?
What is something disrespectful your ex did?
What is something disrespectful your ex said?
What is something your ex didn’t understand?
What is something your ex didn’t support?
What is something your ex wouldn’t participate in?
How did your ex not fit into your future plans?
Reappraisal of love feelings
"It's ok to love someone you’re no longer with.”
“Many people still love their ex."
“People won’t always feel love for an ex.”
“People still love their ex; that’s fine.”
“Experiencing unrequited love is normal.”
“Loving someone is normal.”
“If I’m still in love with my ex; that’s ok.”
“People are still attached to their ex; that’s ok.”
“People won't always be attached to their ex.”
“People won’t always want their ex.”
“People love; that’s what they do.”
“Love is simply a brain process.
“Love will pass.”
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“Love is part of life.”
“Love is just hormones.”
“Love is only a chemical process.”
“People don’t have to feel bad about their love feelings.”
“It’s understandable to love an ex.
“It’s ok to love an ex.”
“It’s normal to love an ex.”
“It’s fine to love an ex.”
“Love feelings are temporary.”
“It’s ok to desire to be loved.”
“It’s ok to want to be loved.”
“It’s ok to desire someone.”
“Love hurts sometimes and that’s normal.”
It's ok to love someone even when apart.”
It's ok for people to still love an ex.”
Distraction
What is your favorite song? Why?
What is your favorite food? Why?
What is your favorite holiday? Why?
What is your favorite color? Why?
What is your favorite movie? Why?
What is your favorite season? Why?
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What is your favorite TV show? Why?
What is your favorite drink? Why?
What is your favorite hobby? Why?
What is your favorite animal? Why?
What is your favorite meal? Why?
What is your favorite joke? Why?
Who is your best friend? Why?
What is your favorite restaurant? Why?
What is your favorite city? Why?
What would you do if you won the lottery?
What is your favorite state? Why?
What is your favorite candy? Why?
Who is your favorite family member? Why?
What is your favorite piece of clothing? Why?
What is your passion? Why?
What is your favorite vacation destination? Why?
Who is your role model? Why?
Who is your favorite teacher? Why?
What is your favorite game? Why?
What is your favorite sport? Why?
What is your ideal job? Why?
What is your ideal career? Why?
... Love regulation is the use of behavioral and cognitive strategies to change the intensity of love [3]. Research has shown that love regulation is feasible [3][4][5][6][7][8][9], but research on people's perceptions about love regulation (i.e., whether they think that love can be regulated) is scarce. ...
... Although it changes the way emotions are expressed, it does not reduce the emotional experience and can have negative cognitive and social consequences [11]. Even though there is an ongoing debate regarding whether love is an emotion or not [12][13][14][15][16][17][18], previous studies have shown that love can be regulated using emotion regulation strategies such as distraction and cognitive reappraisal [3,7,9,19]. ...
... Multiple studies have shown that love can be regulated. In one study, thinking negatively about an ex-partner decreased self-reported levels of love in general for that ex-partner [9]. In another study, thinking about negative aspects of the beloved or the relationship, or imagining negative future scenarios (i.e., negative reappraisal) decreased both infatuation and attachment, and thinking about positive aspects of the beloved or the relationship, or imagining positive future scenarios (i.e., positive reappraisal) increased attachment [3]. ...
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... Therefore, the mean amplitudes in the 150-225 ms and 225-300 ms time windows at electrodes P7, O1, Oz, O2, and P8 during the RSVP task were subjected to rmANOVAs with factors Person and Electrode (P7, O1, Oz, O2, P8). To test the LPP, the mean amplitudes in a 400-1000 ms time window at electrodes F3, Fz, F4, C3, Cz, C4, P3, Pz and P4 (Langeslag & Sanchez, 2018) during the standard passive viewing task were subjected to rmANOVAs with factors Person, Caudality (frontal, central, parietal) and Laterality (left, midline, right). ...
... Besides relevance for daily life, this research question also has relevance for the study of love regulation. For example, people can increase and decrease how in love they are by thinking about positive and negative aspects of their beloved, respectively, which also increases and decreases sustained motivated attention to their beloved, as reflected by the LPP amplitude (Langeslag & Sanchez, 2018;Langeslag & Van Strien, 2016). In a previous study about fear of snakes and spiders, the LPP amplitude was modulated by emotion regulation but the EPN was not (Langeslag & Van Strien, 2018b). ...
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The beloved likely attracts attention. We tested whether the beloved captures early automatic attention, as indicated by an early posterior negativity (EPN) in a typical rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task, while replicating previous findings that the beloved receives sustained motivated attention, as indicated by an enhanced late positive potential (LPP) in a standard passive viewing task. Participants viewed beloved, friend, and stranger pictures in RSVP and standard passive viewing tasks. Participants felt most pleasant and aroused while viewing beloved pictures. In the RSVP task, there was a left lateral parietal EPN for the beloved (vs. friend and stranger) between 225 and 300 ms. In the standard passive viewing task, the midline centroparietal LPP between 400 and 1000 ms was larger in response to the beloved than friend and stranger. So, the beloved captures early automatic attention as well as sustained motivated attention, likely because they are evolutionarily significant.
... Figure 3 presents the data and illustrates how the LPP was reduced following reappraisal instructions-an effect was evident throughout the duration of picture presentation (Hajcak & Nieuwenhuis, 2006). Hence, the LPP is sensitive to reappraisal of emotional content (Krompinger, Moser, & Simons, 2008;Langeslag & Sanchez, 2018;Paul, Simon, Kniesche, Kathmann, & Endrass, 2013;Thiruchselvam, Blechert, Sheppes, Rydstrom, & Gross, 2011). While these studies focused primarily on the immediate impact of reappraisal on LPP amplitude, Thiruchselvam and colleagues (2011) examined the enduring effect of reappraisal on later encounters with the images. ...
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Event‐related potential studies of emotional processing have focused on the late positive potential (LPP), a sustained positive deflection in the ERP that is increased for emotionally arousing stimuli. A prominent theory suggests that modulation of the LPP is a response to stimulus significance, defined in terms of the activation of appetitive and aversive motivational systems. The current review incorporates experimental studies showing that manipulations that alter the significance of stimuli alter LPP amplitude. Complementing these within‐person studies, also included is individual differences research on depression wherein the LPP has been used to study reduced neural sensitivity to emotional stimuli. Finally, the current review builds an existing framework that the LPP observed in studies in emotional processing and the P300 observed in classic oddball studies may reflect a common response to stimulus significance. This integrative account has implications for the functional interpretation of these ERPs, their neurobiological mechanisms, and clinical applications.
... Negative reappraisal of the ex-partner is an effective strategy for down-regulating love feelings following a romantic breakup. In a laboratory study, participants who were upset about a romantic breakup were asked to use three regulation strategies including negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, reappraisal of love feelings and distraction (Langeslag & Sanchez, 2018). They were then asked to view pictures of their ex-partner during which EEG recordings were made. ...
... A higher order explanation is that both negative and/or highly arousing stimuli in context required an extended reanalysis or reevaluation process. In fact, according to recent views, the LPP can be used as a measure of emotion regulation (Hajcak, MacNamara, & Olvet, 2010), in the sense that upregulation of emotion increases its amplitude while downregulation decreases it (Langeslag & Sanchez, 2018;Langeslag & van Strien, 2018). Future studies will help to elucidate these issues. ...
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Human sociality and prosociality rely on social and moral feelings of empathy, compassion, envy, schadenfreude, as well as on the preference for prosocial over antisocial others. We examined the neural underpinnings of the processing of lexical input designed to tap into these type of social feelings. Brainwave responses from 20 participants were measured as they read sentences comprising a randomly delivered ending outcome (fortunate or unfortunate) to social agents previously profiled as prosocial or antisocial individuals. Fortunate outcomes delivered to prosocial and antisocial agents aimed to tap into empathy and envy/annoying feelings, respectively, whereas unfortunate ones into compassion for prosocial agents and schadenfreude for antisocial ones. ERP modulations in early attention-capture (100-200 ms), semantic fit (400 ms), and late reanalysis processes (600 ms) were analyzed. According to the functional interpretation of each of these event-related electrophysiological effects, we conclude that: 1) a higher capture of attention is initially obtained in response to any type of outcome delivered to a prosocial versus an antisocial agent (frontal P2); 2) a facilitated semantic processing occurs for unfortunate outcomes delivered to antisocial agents (N400); and 3) regardless of the protagonist’s social profile, an increased later reevaluation for overall unfortunate versus fortunate outcomes takes place (Late Positive Potential). Thus, neural online measures capture a stepwise unfolding impact of social factors during language comprehension, which include a facilitated processing of misfortunes when they happen to occur to antisocial peers (i.e., schadenfreude).
... Third, our LPP findings, demonstrating impaired distraction implementation following anticipatory information, did not converge with self-reported negative experience findings in Study 1. It bears noting that although in some prior studies LPP and selfreported negative experience findings coincide (e.g., Hajcak & Nieuwenhuis, 2006;Thiruchselvam, Hajcak, & Gross, 2012), in many other studies, they do not (e.g., Ellis, Schroder, Patrick, & Moser, 2017;Langeslag & Sanchez, 2017;Thiruchselvam et al., 2011). This discrepancy may be because self-reported measures are prone to multiple reporting biases (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977;Rosenthal & Rosnow, 2009) and, at best, only represent the endpoint of online processing stages (measured by the LPP) that can reveal how anticipatory information influences regulatory implementation. ...
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... Third, our LPP findings, demonstrating impaired distraction implementation following anticipatory information, did not converge with self-reported negative experience findings in Study 1. It bears noting that although in some prior studies LPP and selfreported negative experience findings coincide (e.g., Hajcak & Nieuwenhuis, 2006;Thiruchselvam, Hajcak, & Gross, 2012), in many other studies, they do not (e.g., Ellis, Schroder, Patrick, & Moser, 2017;Langeslag & Sanchez, 2017;Thiruchselvam et al., 2011). This discrepancy may be because self-reported measures are prone to multiple reporting biases (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977;Rosenthal & Rosnow, 2009) and, at best, only represent the endpoint of online processing stages (measured by the LPP) that can reveal how anticipatory information influences regulatory implementation. ...
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