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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2009 Jun;9(2):144-52. doi: 10.3758/CABN.9.2.144.

Do tests of executive functioning predict ability to downregulate emotions spontaneously and when instructed to suppress?

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Institute of Personality and Social Research, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-5050, USA.


Behavioral regulation is a hallmark feature of executive functioning (EF). The present study investigated whether commonly used neuropsychological test measures of EF (i.e., working memory, Stroop, trail making, and verbal fluency) were related to ability to downregulate emotion both spontaneously and when instructed to suppress emotional expressions. To ensure a wide range of EF, 24 frontotemporal lobar degeneration patients, 7 Alzheimer's patients, and 17 neurologically normal controls participated. Participants were exposed to an acoustic startle stimulus (single aversive noise burst) under three conditions: (1) unwarned, (2) warned with no instructions (to measure spontaneous emotion downregulation), and (3) warned with instructions to suppress (to measure instructed emotion downregulation). Results indicated that higher verbal fluency scores were related to greater emotion regulation (operationalized as reduction in body movement and emotional facial behavior when warned of the impending startle) in both regulation conditions. No relationships were found between emotion regulation in these conditions and the other EF measures. We conclude that, of four commonly used measures of EF, verbal fluency best indexes the complex processes of monitoring, evaluation, and control necessary for successful emotion regulation, both spontaneously and following instructions to suppress.

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