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More and Better: Reappraisal Quality Partially Explains the Effect of Reappraisal Use on Changes in Positive and Negative Affect

Abstract

Background

A substantial body of research suggests that cognitive reappraisal is effective at improving momentary affect, but it remains unclear how reappraisal leads to these changes. We tested the quality of reappraisal as one potential mechanism.

Methods

A sample of 314 participants (Mage = 36.30; 51.0% female; 69.4% White) recruited online were instructed in the use of reappraisal and were asked to reappraise an upsetting memory for 5 min. Afterwards, participants rated the degree to which they used reappraisal during the task and independent raters coded the quality of participants’ written descriptions. Participants also rated the intensity of positive and negative affect before and after the memory task.

Results

Reappraisal quality explained a significant proportion of the effect of reappraisal use on improvements in negative, ab = − 1.49, SE = .33, 95% CI [− 2.17, − .90], and positive affect, ab = 2.67, SE = .54, 95% CI [1.64, 3.79]. Depression symptom severity moderated these relations—the indirect effects of reappraisal quality were stronger among those with fewer depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

These results suggest the quality with which reappraisal is used is one way through which reappraisal predicts improvements in affect, especially among people lower in depressive symptoms. Our findings enhance our understanding of the process of reappraisal and offer potential targets for interventions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    McDonald’s omega is a more accurate and general expression of Cronbach’s alpha because it allows individual items to exhibit different loadings on an underlying single factor (i.e., McDonald’s omega does not assume essential tau-equivalence or unidimensionality but can be used to evaluate the plausibility of a single factor structure; Hayes & Coutts, 2020).

  2. 2.

    Because experiences of single negative emotions are roughly as common as blends of multiple negative emotions (Watson & Stanton, 2017) and multiple researchers have found that reappraisal may be differentially efficacious for different emotions (Demaree et al., 2006; Olatunji et al., 2017; Pasupathi et al., 2017; Southward et al., 2019), we re-ran our analyses with each specific negative emotion as an outcome (Tables S1–S5, Supplemental Materials).

  3. 3.

    We note that the (lack of) a temporal relation between reappraisal use and reappraisal quality (the a path) may more accurately be represented by the covariance between these variables. However, given the larger literature on interpreting mediation analyses and the relative ease of interpreting products of regression coefficients compared to products of regression coefficients and covariances, we have opted to conduct mediation analyses and explicitly note when these analyses do and do not imply causal and/or temporal relations.

  4. 4.

    PROCESS only calculates an index of moderated mediation for models with a moderator of one leg of a mediational path. Thus, after we reviewed the results of Model 59, we used Model 14 to calculate the index of moderated mediation. Model 14 was selected because, in this model, the moderator only moderates the b path (i.e., reappraisal quality to change in negative affect).

  5. 5.

    This index of moderated mediation is also based on Model 14 in PROCESS, as in the negative affect results.

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Funding

This work was partially supported by The Ohio State University Alumni Grants for Graduate Research and Scholarship (to Anne C. Holmes). The funding source had no involvement in the conduct or preparation of the research.

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Correspondence to Matthew W. Southward.

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Matthew W. Southward, Anne C. Holmes, Daniel R. Strunk and Jennifer S. Cheavens declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Southward, M.W., Holmes, A.C., Strunk, D.R. et al. More and Better: Reappraisal Quality Partially Explains the Effect of Reappraisal Use on Changes in Positive and Negative Affect. Cogn Ther Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-021-10255-z

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Keywords

  • Reappraisal
  • Quality
  • Negative affect
  • Positive affect
  • Depression