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Behav Res Ther. 2009 Sep;47(9):761-73. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.05.007. Epub 2009 Jun 10.

The consequences of effortful emotion regulation when processing distressing material: a comparison of suppression and acceptance.

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Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


The present study investigated the consequences of different forms of emotion regulation. Eighty nine healthy participants viewed a distressing video of the aftermath of road traffic accidents under either suppression (of both felt and expressed affect), acceptance, or no-regulation control instructions and the immediate and longer-term consequences on emotion, mood, and memory were examined. Suppression (relative to control) led to reduced subjective experience of fear when viewing the video, but did not alter electrodermal (EDA) or heart rate (HR) response. Subsequently, suppression led to a less marked subjective emotional reaction to positive but not negative emotional images, reduced free recall memory of the video, and a greater likelihood of experiencing zero intrusions of the video's content. Acceptance (relative to control) had no impact when viewing the video, was associated with a less marked increase in EDA activity in the 5 min period immediately after viewing the video, a more marked HR deceleration and EDA response to both positive and negative images, and elevated negative affect at one week follow-up. These findings suggest, contrary to the current clinical zeitgeist, that emotion suppression can successfully lead to an ongoing down-regulation of emotion and memory, whereas acceptance may elevate subsequent emotionality.

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