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Emotional Reactivity and Inhibitory Control in Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Adolescence: Divergence Between Positive and Negative Emotions


Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) is prevalent in adolescents and is often linked to emotion dysregulation. However, it remains unknown which specific processes of emotion regulation and under what emotional context these processes are related to the risk for NSSI in samples of community-based adolescents. This study used two laboratory tasks to examine whether adolescents with a history of NSSI displayed difficulties in emotional reactivity and inhibitory control in response to negative and positive emotions. In Study 1, adolescents with/without a history of NSSI (N = 64; MAge = 13.45 ± 0.50; 53% female) completed a picture perception task in which they were asked to judge the valence and arousal of images. In Study 2, adolescents with/without a history of NSSI (N = 74; MAge = 13.49 ± 0.80; 50% female) were given a two-choice emotional oddball task that required them to differentially respond to frequent stimuli (images of an object) and infrequent stimuli (affective images). The results showed that adolescents with a history of NSSI showed decreased emotional sensitivity and lower levels of inhibitory control in response to images depicting negative emotional content but not to those depicting positive emotional content. Furthermore, affective inhibitory control problems were significantly positively related to the severity of NSSI, especially in the context of negative emotions. These findings suggest that there is a divergence between positive and negative emotions in both emotional reactivity and affective inhibitory control processes on NSSI. Specifically, relative to adolescents with no history of NSSI, adolescents with a history of NSSI showed lower emotional awareness and behavioral inhibitory control when processing negative emotions, but these distinctions were not found in contexts involving positive emotions. Additionally, the results suggest that affective inhibitory control deficits specific for negative emotions may result in vulnerability to increased NSSI severity.

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Data Availability

The SPSS data used to support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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The authors thank students and their parents, the principal, and the teachers who contributed to this study.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.L. conceived of the study, participated in its design, performed the measurement and statistical analysis, and drafted the paper; Y.G. participated in the design, performed the measurement and interpretation of the data; H.W. participated in the design and coordination of the study and performed the measurement; X.L. conceived of the study, and participated in its design and coordination and helped to draft the paper. All authors read and approved the final paper. Conceptualization, J.L. and X.L.; Data curation, Y.G., H.W., and X.L.; Formal analysis, J.L.; Writing-original draft, J.L.; Writing-review & editing, Y.G., H.W., and X.L.; Funding acquisition, X.L.; Project administration, X.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the paper.


This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31900772).

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xia Liu.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

Approval was obtained from the ethics committee of Institutional Review Board of the Faculty of Psychology, Beijing Normal University. The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed Consent

Participants and their primary caregivers gave written informed consent for the assessment.

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Written informed consent for publication was obtained from all participants.

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Liu, J., Gao, Y., Wang, H. et al. Emotional Reactivity and Inhibitory Control in Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Adolescence: Divergence Between Positive and Negative Emotions. J Youth Adolescence 51, 1720–1732 (2022).

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  • Nonsuicidal self-injury
  • Emotional reactivity
  • Affective inhibitory control
  • Adolescence