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Cogn Emot. 2012;26(1):103-18. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2011.557291. Epub 2011 May 24.

Executive functions and the down-regulation and up-regulation of emotion.

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Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, Stanford University, San Francisco, CA, USA.


This study examined the relationship between individual differences in executive functions (EF; assessed by measures of working memory, Stroop, trail making, and verbal fluency) and ability to down-regulate and up-regulate responses to emotionally evocative film clips. To ensure a wide range of EF, 48 participants with diverse neurodegenerative disorders and 21 older neurologically normal ageing participants were included. Participants were exposed to three different movie clips that were designed to elicit a mix of disgust and amusement. While watching the films they were either instructed to watch, down-regulate, and up-regulate their visible emotional responses. Heart rate and facial behaviours were monitored throughout. Emotion regulatory ability was operationalised as changes in heart rate and facial behaviour in the down- and up-regulation conditions, controlling for responses in the watch condition. Results indicated that higher verbal fluency scores were related to greater ability to regulate emotion in both the down-regulation and up-regulation conditions. This finding remained significant even after controlling for age and general cognitive functioning. No relationships were found between emotion regulation and the other EF measures. We believe these results derive from differences among EF measures, with verbal-fluency performance best capturing the complex sequence of controlled planning, activation, and monitoring required for successful emotion regulation. These findings contribute to our understanding of emotion-cognition interaction, suggesting a link between emotion-regulatory abilities and individual differences in complex executive functions.

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