The regulation of negative emotions in depression : exploring the use of reappraisal and acceptance during a stressful task
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Depression is a serious mental health concern affecting nearly 20% of the population (Kessler, 2002). A hallmark feature of depression is a prolonged period (i.e., 2 weeks or more) of sad mood. Because of this, recent conceptualizations have described Major Depressive Disorder as a dysfunction of emotion regulation (e.g., Kring & Bachorowski, 1999). However, the nature of this emotion regulation dysfunction in MDD is not well understood. The current study examined whether experimentally manipulating emotion regulation during a stressful task would help depressed individuals more effectively regulate subjective and physiological emotional responses. Although theorists have speculated that depression may potentiate certain emotional states, few empirical studies have been completed. One study found that depressed individuals reacted with significantly greater anger in response to a distressing and frustrating task than non-depressed individuals (Ellis, Fischer & Beevers, 2010). That study suggested that emotion regulation difficulties may contribute to the potentiation of some negative emotions, such as anger, among depressed individuals. Altering the emotion regulation strategies typically used by depressed individuals could therefore attenuate emotional reactivity to stressful experiences. Gross (1998) posits that emotion regulation can occur at two distinct points--either manipulating the input or the output of the emotional process. He refers to these as antecedent-focused (e.g., reappraisal of cognitions) or response-focused (e.g., acceptance of experience) emotion regulation. This theoretical framework provides a model through which to examine strategies to reduce distress and anger in depression. Specifically, the current dissertation examined the differential effects of manipulating an emotional response before generated (reappraisal; antecedent-focused) and after elicited (acceptance; response-focused). Depressed and non-depressed individuals were randomized to an emotion regulation strategy: reappraisal, acceptance or no strategy. They then completed a standardized, distressing task previously shown to potentiate anger (Ellis et al., 2010) and affect physiological responding (Matthews & Stoney, 1988). Subjective (i.e., anger, anxiety) and physiological (i.e., heart rate, galvanic skin response, respiration) emotional responses were collected to determine whether manipulating emotion regulation attenuates emotional reactivity to the distressing task. Results indicated that depressed individuals responded with greater anger, had lower galvanic skin conductance response, and persisted for shorter duration on the task than non-depressed individuals. Results also indicated that instructions to accept emotions increased anger during the task compared to reappraisal or no strategy. However, depression status and emotion regulation strategy did not interact, suggesting the effect of emotion regulation strategy did not differ across depression groups. Further, there were no differences between strategies for task persistence or skin conductance. Results suggest that acceptance is not an effective strategy for the acute reduction of anger. Results also emphasize the importance of anger potentiation and distress intolerance and highlight the need for continued work that identifies more effective strategies for emotion dysregulation in depression.