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Emotion - Vol 17, Iss 4

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Emotion Emotion publishes significant contributions to the study of emotion from a wide range of theoretical traditions and research domains. Emotion includes articles that advance knowledge and theory about all aspects of emotional processes, including reports of substantial empirical studies, scholarly reviews, and major theoretical articles.
Copyright 2017 American Psychological Association
  • Social interaction contexts bias the perceived expressions of interactants.
    The present study sought to determine whether contextual information available when viewing social interactions from third-person perspectives may influence observers’ perception of the interactants’ facial emotion. Observers judged whether the expression of a target face was happy or fearful, in the presence of a happy, aggressive, or neutral interactant. In 2 experiments, the same target expressions were judged to be happier when presented in the context of a happy interactant than when interacting with a neutral or aggressive partner. We failed to show that the target expression was judged as more fearful when interacting with an aggressive partner. Importantly, observers’ perception of the target expression was not modulated by the emotion of the context interactant when the interactants were presented back-to-back, suggesting that the bias depends on the presence of an intact interaction arrangement. These results provide valuable insight into how social contextual effects shape our perception of facial emotion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Social information influences emotional experience and late positive potential response to affective pictures.
    Emotion experience and regulation frequently occur in social settings. Social influence is a common source of unconscious change in judgment in many contexts, but it has yet to be investigated as a form of automatic emotion regulation. Here, we demonstrate that nonpredictive social information (i.e., high or low “emotion intensity ratings from other people” that were not related to the actual intensity of the pictures) about the intensity of pleasant and unpleasant picture stimuli can influence self-reported emotional experience and the magnitude of the late positive potential, an event-related potential associated with the detection of emotional salience and sustained attention to motivationally significant stimulus features. These results show that emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant affective pictures can be altered by nonpredictive social information on both the behavioral and the neurophysiological level. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • The social regulation of emotion and updating negative contents of working memory.
    The social regulation of emotion reduces negative affect and may also help remove negative contents from working memory. The present studies investigated whether the social regulation of emotion (in the form of handholding) altered the ability to update negative contents from working memory and whether a person’s level of desired emotional closeness moderated this effect. In each of 2 studies, an unselected sample of undergraduate students completed an emotional working memory task that measured the ability to remove irrelevant information from working memory and a self-report questionnaire measuring their level of desired emotional closeness. In Study 1 (N = 109), the task consisted only of negative images, and each participant performed half of the task while holding someone’s hand and the other half while not holding someone’s hand. Study 2 (N = 195) included a few changes (e.g., using both negative and neutral images, altering the control condition to consist of holding a stress ball, using a between-participants design, measuring comfort with handholding) to address a few potential alternative explanations. Overall, there appeared to be a better ability to update negative contents of working memory in the handholding condition of each study than the control condition among people with high desired emotional closeness but not among people with low desired emotional closeness. The present findings provide evidence that the social regulation of emotion can facilitate the removal of irrelevant negative contents of working memory. This process may be one way in which supportive relationships protect against psychological distress. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Neural substrates and social consequences of interpersonal gratitude: Intention matters.
    Voluntary help during a time of need fosters interpersonal gratitude, which has positive social and personal consequences such as improved social relationships, increased reciprocity, and decreased distress. In a behavioral and a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, participants played a multiround interactive game where they received pain stimulation. An anonymous partner interacted with the participants and either intentionally or unintentionally (i.e., determined by a computer program) bore part of the participants’ pain. In each round, participants either evaluated their perceived pain intensity (behavioral experiment) or transferred an amount of money to the partner (fMRI experiment). Intentional (relative to unintentional) help led to lower experience of pain, higher reciprocity (money allocation), and increased interpersonal closeness toward the partner. fMRI revealed that for the most grateful condition (i.e., intentional help), value-related structures such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) showed the highest activation in response to the partner’s decision, whereas the primary sensory area and the anterior insula exhibited the lowest activation at the pain delivery stage. Moreover, the vmPFC activation was predictive of the individual differences in reciprocal behavior, and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) activation was predictive of self-reported gratitude. Furthermore, using multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), we showed that the neural activation pattern in the septum/hypothalamus, an area associated with affiliative affect and social bonding, and value-related structures specifically and sensitively dissociated intentional help from unintentional help conditions. These findings contribute to our understanding of the psychological and neural substrates of the experience of interpersonal gratitude and the social consequences of this emotion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Autonomic reactivity and vulnerability to depression: A multi-wave study.
    The ability of the autonomic nervous system to flexibly adapt to environmental changes is thought to indicate efficient use of self-regulatory resources. Deficits in autonomic reactivity appear to characterize current depression; however, whether autonomic reactivity confers vulnerability to future depression when individuals encounter environmental stressors is unknown. Fluctuations in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and heart rate (HR) were evaluated in response to emotion-eliciting films among 134 undergraduates. Negative events and depressive symptoms were assessed 5 times across 12 weeks. Multilevel modeling demonstrated that smaller decreases in RSA in response to sadness, greater increases in HR following sadness, and smaller increases in HR to amusement were prospectively associated with greater depressive symptoms when individuals encountered high levels of idiographically assessed negative events. These results demonstrate that the lack of contextually appropriate autonomic reactivity may confer vulnerability to depression under conditions of environmental stress, perhaps due to attenuated capacity for effective self-regulation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Working memory regulates trait anxiety-related threat processing biases.
    High trait anxious individuals tend to show biased processing of threat. Correlational evidence suggests that executive control could be used to regulate such threat-processing. On this basis, we hypothesized that trait anxiety-related cognitive biases regarding threat should be exaggerated when executive control is experimentally impaired by loading working memory. In Study 1, 68 undergraduates read ambiguous vignettes under high and low working memory load; later, their interpretations of these vignettes were assessed via a recognition test. Trait anxiety predicted biased interpretation of social threat vignettes under high working memory load, but not under low working memory load. In Study 2, 53 undergraduates completed a dot probe task with fear-conditioned Japanese characters serving as threat stimuli. Trait anxiety predicted attentional bias to the threat stimuli but, again, this only occurred under high working memory load. Interestingly however, actual eye movements toward the threat stimuli were only associated with state anxiety, and this was not moderated by working memory load, suggesting that executive control regulates biased threat-processing downstream of initial input processes such as orienting. These results suggest that cognitive loads can exacerbate trait anxiety-related cognitive biases, and therefore represent a useful tool for assessing cognitive biases in future research. More importantly, since biased threat-processing has been implicated in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety, poor executive control may be a risk factor for anxiety disorders. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Effects of learning context on the acquisition and processing of emotional words in bilinguals.
    Although bilinguals respond differently to emotionally valenced words in their first language (L1) relative to emotionally neutral words, similar effects of emotional valence are hard to come by in second language (L2) processing. We examine the extent to which these differences in first and second language processing are due to the context in which the 2 languages are acquired: L1 is typically acquired in more naturalistic settings (e.g., family) than L2 (e.g., at school). Fifty German–English bilinguals learned unfamiliar German and English negative and neutral words in 2 different learning conditions: One group (emotion video context) watched videos of a person providing definitions of the words with facial and gestural cues, whereas another group (neutral video context) received the same definitions without gestural and emotional cues. Subsequently, participants carried out an emotional Stroop task, a sentence completion task, and a recall task on the words they had just learned. We found that the effect of learning context on the influence of emotional valence on responding was modulated by a) language status, L1 versus L2, and b) task requirement. We suggest that a more nuanced approach is required to capture the differences in emotion effects in the speed versus accuracy of access to words across different learning contexts and different languages, in particular with regard to our finding that bilinguals respond to L2 words in a similar manner as L1 words provided that the learning context is naturalistic and incorporates emotional and prosodic cues. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Don’t look at my teeth when I smile: Teeth visibility in smiling faces affects emotionality ratings and gaze patterns.
    Research on facial emotion processing has offered inconclusive results on whether certain emotional expressions, like happiness, are detected faster over others. A source of discrepancy among studies could stem from differences in physically salient features (e.g., teeth visibility), which are often left uncontrolled in this field of research. In Study 1, happy faces from the Karolinska Database Emotional Databse with visible, normal teeth unexpectedly obtained lower scores on intensity and prototypicality than the same faces with covered teeth. In Study 2, an eye-tracking methodology revealed that although faces with normal teeth drew participants’ initial attention, participants spent more time looking at the eye region in faces with covered teeth, a region that previous research had found to be more informative of emotion than the mouth region. Overall, these results suggest that advantages often associated with certain emotional faces might be partially due to artifacts that should be systematically controlled for in future studies. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Instrumental motives in negative emotion regulation in daily life: Frequency, consistency, and predictors.
    People regulate their emotions not only for hedonic reasons but also for instrumental reasons, to attain the potential benefits of emotions beyond pleasure and pain. However, such instrumental motives have rarely been examined outside the laboratory as they naturally unfold in daily life. To assess whether and how instrumental motives operate outside the laboratory, it is necessary to examine them in response to real and personally relevant stimuli in ecologically valid contexts. In this research, we assessed the frequency, consistency, and predictors of instrumental motives in negative emotion regulation in daily life. Participants (N = 114) recalled the most negative event of their day each evening for 7 days and reported their instrumental motives and negative emotion goals in that event. Participants endorsed performance motives in approximately 1 in 3 events and social, eudaimonic, and epistemic motives in approximately 1 in 10 events. Instrumental motives had substantially higher within- than between-person variance, indicating that they were context-dependent. Indeed, although we found few associations between instrumental motives and personality traits, relationships between instrumental motives and contextual variables were more extensive. Performance, social, and epistemic motives were each predicted by a unique pattern of contextual appraisals. Our data demonstrate that instrumental motives play a role in daily negative emotion regulation as people encounter situations that pose unique regulatory demands. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • We are sorry, they don’t care: Misinterpretation of facial embarrassment displays in Arab–White intergroup contexts.
    Embarrassment displays show others that one is aware of one’s own misbehavior and willing to make up for it. The facial actions of embarrassment, however, are partly similar to those of disinterest, which has an opposite function, signaling that one is not concerned about one’s self in relation to others. In the context of negative intergroup relations, embarrassment displays of outgroup members may therefore be misinterpreted as disinterest. In the present research, the authors predicted that Whites would perceive Arab expressions of embarrassment more as disinterest, but embarrassment displays of Whites more as embarrassment. Aggregated Study 1 (N = 1,154) confirms this hypothesis showing that White participants perceived more intense embarrassment in Whites than in Arabs and more intense disinterest in Arabs than in Whites. Studies 2 (n = 193) and 3 (n = 260) include methodological improvements and either largely or fully replicated our findings. Based on this evidence in an Arab–White context, the authors conclude that the affiliative function of embarrassment perception is dependent on the nature of the group context. Finally, they discuss the generalizability of this intergroup emotion bias in which emotional expressions may be perceived as the opposite of what they are intended to display. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Suppression and expression of emotion in social and interpersonal outcomes: A meta-analysis.
    Emotion expression is critical for the communication of important social information, such as emotional states and behavioral intentions. However, people tend to vary in their level of emotional expression. This meta-analysis investigated the relationships between levels of emotion expression and suppression, and social and interpersonal outcomes. PsycINFO databases, as well as reference lists were searched. Forty-three papers from a total of 3,200 papers met inclusion criteria, allowing for 105 effect sizes to be calculated. Meta-analyses revealed that greater suppression of emotion was significantly associated with poorer social wellbeing, including more negative first impressions, lower social support, lower social satisfaction and quality, and poorer romantic relationship quality. Furthermore, the expression of positive and general/nonspecific emotion was related to better social outcomes, while the expression of anger was associated with poorer social wellbeing. Expression of negative emotion generally was also associated with poorer social outcomes, although this effect size was very small and consisted of mixed results. These findings highlight the importance of considering the role that regulation of emotional expression can play in the development of social dysfunction and interpersonal problems. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Dynamical systems modeling of early childhood self-regulation.
    Self-regulation can be conceptualized in terms of dynamic tension between highly probable reactions (prepotent responses) and use of strategies that can modulate those reactions (executive processes). This study investigated the value of a dynamical systems approach to the study of early childhood self-regulation. Specifically, ordinary differential equations (ODEs) were used to model the interactive influences of 115 36-month-olds’ executive processes (strategy use) and prepotent responses to waiting to open a gift (desire for the gift and frustration about waiting to open it). Using a pair of coupled second-order ODEs in a nonlinear mixed effects framework, the study tested predictions for specific within- and between-child patterns of prepotent response-executive process coupling. Dynamic modeling results articulated the limits of 36-month olds’ strategic efforts. They engaged executive processes when their prepotent responding levels were high, which delayed the resurgence of prepotent responses, but ultimately did not damp prepotent responding over the course of the wait. There was, however, preliminary evidence that the effectiveness of 36-month-olds’ self-regulation depended upon child characteristics. Externalizing behavior problems were associated with more regulatory interference. Temperamental negative affectivity was marginally associated with more regulatory inefficiency. Compared with conventional methods of studying self-regulation, dynamic modeling yielded complementary and unique findings, suggesting its potential. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Perceptual salience does not influence emotional arousal’s impairing effects on top-down attention.
    Emotional arousal impairs top-down attentional control while strengthening bottom-up attentional biases. In this study, we examined whether top-down impairments due to arousal can be modulated by increasing the perceptual salience of the target stimulus. To examine this question, we briefly displayed positive and negative arousing images prior to the encoding of 2 emotionally neutral items, 1 of which was to be remembered and 1 of which was perceptually salient (the to-be-remembered and the salient items were either the same item or different items). Eye tracking was used to measure attention biases during the encoding of the 2 competing neutral items, as well as to measure pupillary responses to the preceding modulator image. Viewing emotional images, regardless of valence, impaired top-down attention to animate stimulus targets (i.e., animals), regardless of perceptual salience. However, these effects on encoding had no influence on recognition memory. Taken together, these findings reveal that exposure to emotionally arousing images impairs top-down attention to animate stimuli, regardless of whether that stimulus is perceptually salient. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Negative affect mediates the relation between trait urgency and behavioral distress tolerance.
    Distress tolerance is associated with a range of psychopathology and risk-taking behavior. Current research suggests that the behavioral ability to persist at goal-directed behavior when distressed may be malleable. However, little is known about the contributing factors that underlie individual differences in distress tolerance. Trait urgency, or the tendency to act impulsively in the context of acute changes in affect, may predict distress tolerance because the prepotent response to avoid or remove an aversive state may undermine persistence. To date, most research has examined the role of negative urgency, a valenced subfactor of urgency, in relation to distress tolerance. However, the broad trait of urgency may be associated with a greater change in affect that precedes the inability to tolerate distress. The current study examined whether greater changes in negative affect was indeed a mediator in the relationship between trait urgency and behavioral distress tolerance. The effects of both positive and negative urgency on affect change were examined to investigate the potential contribution of the broader urgency trait. The results suggest that a greater change in negative affect over the course of a stressor mediated the association between both subfactors of urgency and distress tolerance. These findings suggest that trait urgency, regardless of valence, may be associated with experiencing greater changes in affect that ultimately undermine the ability to tolerate distress. These findings also highlight important components of distress tolerance that could inform behavioral interventions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • The effect of reactive emotions expressed in response to another’s anger on inferences of social power.
    Social perception of emotions is influenced by the context in which it occurs. One such context is a social interaction involving an exchange of emotions. The way parties to the interaction are perceived is shaped by the combination of emotions exchanged. This idea was examined by assessing the extent to which expressions of anger toward a target—which, in isolation, are perceived as signals of high social power—are influenced by the target’s emotional reaction to it (i.e., reactive emotions). Three studies show that the angry person was perceived as having a higher level of social power when this anger was responded by fear or sadness than when it was responded by neutrality or anger. Study 1 indicated that reactive emotions have a stronger effect on perceived social power when emotions were incongruent with gender stereotypes. Study 2 indicated that these effects are a result of these emotions serving as reactive emotions rather than a benchmark against which the angry person’s power is assessed. Study 3 showed that reactive emotions affect perceived social power by serving as signals of the level to which the high social power suggested by the first person’s expression is confirmed by its target. Comparing effects of reactive emotions to anger with reactive emotions to sadness, showed that perceived social power of the expresser is determined by the nature of the expression, with some adjustment caused by the reactive emotions. This underscores the importance of social interaction as a context for the social perception of emotions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • What you like is what you try to get: Attitudes toward emotions and situation selection.
    Why do people expose themselves to certain emotional stimuli and avoid others? We propose that what people want to feel is linked to attitudes toward emotions. In 3 studies, we show that individuals with more (vs. less) negative attitudes toward an emotion were more (vs. less) likely to avoid stimuli that induce that emotion. People who evaluated disgust (or joy) less favorably than others were less likely to expose themselves to disgusting (or joyful) pictures (Study 1). These links were emotion-specific and could not be explained by differences in state or trait emotion (Study 2) or in emotional reactivity (Study 3). We were further able to show that the choice of emotion-inducing stimuli affected emotional experience in a congruent manner. People with more (vs. less) negative attitudes toward disgust (or sadness) were more likely to avoid disgusting (or sad) stimuli, resulting in more intense experiences of disgust (or sadness; Study 2). Finally, people with more negative attitudes toward disgust chose to avoid more disgusting stimuli, whether attitudes were assessed explicitly or implicitly (Study 3). These findings suggest that people avoid stimuli that induce emotions that they evaluate less favorably, even when such evaluations are not consciously accessible. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Attentional capture by taboo words: A functional view of auditory distraction.
    It is well established that task-irrelevant, to-be-ignored speech adversely affects serial short-term memory (STM) for visually presented items compared with a quiet control condition. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether the semantic content of the speech has the capacity to capture attention and to disrupt memory performance. In the present article, we tested whether taboo words are more difficult to ignore than neutral words. Taboo words or neutral words were presented as (a) steady state sequences in which the same distractor word was repeated, (b) changing state sequences in which different distractor words were presented, and (c) auditory deviant sequences in which a single distractor word deviated from a sequence of repeated words. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that taboo words disrupted performance more than neutral words. This taboo effect did not habituate and it did not differ between individuals with high and low working memory capacity. In Experiments 3 and 4, in which only a single deviant taboo word was presented, no taboo effect was obtained. These results do not support the idea that the processing of the auditory distractors’ semantic content is the result of occasional attention switches to the auditory modality. Instead, the overall pattern of results is more in line with a functional view of auditory distraction, according to which the to-be-ignored modality is routinely monitored for potentially important stimuli (e.g., self-relevant or threatening information), the detection of which draws processing resources away from the primary task. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Compassionate acts and everyday emotional well-being among newlyweds.
    Compassion is deeply prized in Western marriages yet its benefits for emotional well-being have been investigated empirically only rarely. This research examined the association between compassionate acts and everyday emotional well-being in 175 newlywed couples. Following prior research and theory, we defined compassionate acts as caregiving that is freely given, focused on understanding and genuine acceptance of the other’s needs and wishes, and expressed through openness, warmth, and a willingness to put a partner’s goals ahead of one’s own. We adopted an explicitly dyadic perspective so that we could consider how compassionate acts as well as their recognition influence the affective state of both donors and recipients. Our findings, which controlled for the general affective tone of marital interaction, revealed that compassionate acts are beneficial for both donors and recipients, and that the effects on the donor are stronger than the effects on the recipient. Moreover, we found that whereas recipients’ benefits depend on their noticing the donors’ actions, donors benefit regardless of whether the recipients explicitly notice the compassionate acts. The pattern of results for husbands and wives was very similar. These results suggest that in terms of emotional well-being, for donors, acting compassionately may be its own reward. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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