Cognitive reappraisal increases heart rate variability in response to an anger provocation

Abstract

Adaptive self-regulatory responses to negative events are associated with good mental health, social functioning, and physical health. Two forms of emotion regulation that have received attention within the context of anger are cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression. Research suggests that greater heart rate variability (HRV) is a physiological indicator of adaptive emotion regulation and decreased mental load. In the present experiment, we recorded HRV while 131 undergraduate women viewed an anger-inducing video of a fellow student arguing for a position counter to that of the participant on an important political issue. Immediately prior to viewing, participants were instructed to reappraise, suppress their emotions, or simply watch the video as normal. Participants in the reappraisal condition showed increased HRV whereas those in the suppression and control condition showed no such increase. These results provide support for increased HRV as a biological correlate of adaptive emotion regulation. One implication is that cognitive reappraisal might afford greater autonomic flexibility when an individual is confronted with anger-inducing events.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Participants also completed a second manipulation check item for reappraisal (i.e., “I thought about the positive aspects of the event”) but this did not form a reliable composite with the “objective perspective” item (α = .53). We therefore relied on the latter item as it accurately captures the essence of cognitive reappraisal.

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Acknowledgments

Funding was provided by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant to all three authors. Thank you to Carolyn Lorian and Sonja Memedovic for help with data collection and analyses.

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Correspondence to Thomas F. Denson.

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Denson, T.F., Grisham, J.R. & Moulds, M.L. Cognitive reappraisal increases heart rate variability in response to an anger provocation. Motiv Emot 35, 14–22 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-011-9201-5

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Keywords

  • Anger
  • Reappraisal
  • Suppression
  • Heart rate variability
  • Emotion regulation