The present study explored early personality and environmental predictors of the development of young children’s empathy, as well as relations of empathy to prosocial behavior with peers at a later age. How children manage their own emotions and behaviors when under stress—their ego-resiliency—would be expected to affect their responses to others’ emotions. Also, socialization experiences, such as the quality of parenting behaviors, have been associated with individual differences in empathy-related responding. We examined whether mothers’ emotion socialization practices and children’s ego-resiliency at 18 months predicted initial levels and change in empathy across five time points (24, 30, 42, 48, and 54 months; N = 242), and whether empathy in turn predicted prosocial behavior with peers at 72/84 months of age. Ego-resiliency and mothers’ expressive encouragement both uniquely predicted the intercept of empathy. Boys’ empathy was lower than girls’ but improved more with age. Initial levels and growth of empathy positively predicted later prosocial behavior. Children’s ego-resiliency predicted the slope of empathy at near significance (p = .054). We also found that the intercept of empathy mediated the relation between ego-resiliency and prosocial behavior as well as the relation between mothers’ expressive encouragement and prosocial behavior. These findings suggest that both parenting and personality characteristics are relevant to the development of empathy during early childhood and might contribute to children’s later prosocial behavior with peers.
empathy; ego-resiliency; parenting; prosocial behavior; early childhood
The present study examined if viewing affective stimuli alters subsequent visual processing, as indexed by steady-state visual potentials (ssVEPs) and behavioral performance in an orientation discrimination task. Participants viewed task-irrelevant but emotionally arousing pictures (1s) followed by a target stimulus stream consisting of low (2 cpd) or high-spatial frequency (6 cpd) Gabor patches, flickering at a temporal rate of 14 Hz. Luminance contrast of the patches gradually increased for the first half and decreased for the second half of the total duration, resulting in a waxing-waning pattern of stimulus contrast. We found that the waveform envelope of 14 Hz-ssVEPs corresponded to time-varying stimulus contrast. Analyses compared medium- and high-contrast time segments, as a function of emotional content and spatial frequency. Results showed greater ssVEP amplitudes for patches with high compared to medium contrast. Viewing emotionally arousing pictures selectively enhanced the ssVEP amplitudes for low-spatial frequency target patches, and attenuated the ssVEP evoked by high-spatial frequency patches. Response times were slower for patches following unpleasant pictures than pleasant and neutral, and error rates mirrored the interaction of emotional content and spatial frequency observed in the ssVEP data. Together, the present results suggest that distinct neural mechanisms may mediate costs and benefits of emotional engagement for subsequent sensory processing, characterized by an additive effect of the neural contrast and response gain.
steady-state; emotion; subsequent visual processing; contrast; spatial frequency
The visual system is biased towards sensory cues that have been associated with danger or harm through temporal co-occurrence. An outstanding question about conditioning-induced changes in visuocortical processing is the extent to which they are driven primarily by top-down factors such as expectancy or by low-level factors such as the temporal proximity between conditioned stimuli and aversive outcomes. Here, we examined this question using two different differential aversive conditioning experiments: participants learned to associate a particular grating stimulus with an aversive noise that was presented either in close temporal proximity (delay conditioning experiment) or after a prolonged stimulus-free interval (trace conditioning experiment). In both experiments we probed cue-related cortical responses by recording steady-state visual evoked potentials (ssVEPs). Although behavioral ratings indicated that all participants successfully learned to discriminate between the grating patterns that predicted the presence versus absence of the aversive noise, selective amplification of population-level responses in visual cortex for the conditioned danger signal was observed only when the grating and the noise were temporally contiguous. Our findings are in line with notions purporting that changes in the electrocortical response of visual neurons induced by aversive conditioning are a product of Hebbian associations among sensory cell assemblies rather than being driven entirely by expectancy-based, declarative processes.
Why do some individuals become dissatisfied with their marriages when
levels of negative emotion are high and levels of positive emotions are low,
whereas others remain unaffected? Using data from a 13-year longitudinal study
of middle-aged and older adults in long-term marriages, we examined whether the
5-HTTLPR polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene moderates the
association between negative and positive emotional behavior (objectively
measured during marital conflict) and changes in marital satisfaction over time.
For individuals with two short alleles of 5-HTTLPR, higher negative and lower
positive emotional behavior at Time 1 predicted declines in marital satisfaction
over time (even after controlling for depression and other covariates). For
individuals with one or two long alleles, emotional behavior did not predict
changes in marital satisfaction. We also found evidence for a crossover
interaction (individuals with two short alleles of 5-HTTLPR and low levels of
negative or high levels of positive emotion had the highest levels of marital
satisfaction). These findings provide the first evidence of a specific genetic
polymorphism that moderates the association between emotional behavior and
changes in marital satisfaction over time and are consistent with increasing
evidence that the short allele of this polymorphism serves as a susceptibility
factor that amplifies sensitivity to both negative and positive emotional
Emotional behavior; genetic polymorphisms; 5-HTTLPR; relationships
This is the first study to explore genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in emotion regulation in toddlers, and the first to examine the genetic and environmental etiology underlying the association between emotion regulation and working memory. In a sample of 304 same-sex twin pairs (140 MZ, 164 DZ) at age 3, emotion regulation was assessed using the Behavior Rating Scale of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BRS; Bayley, 1993), and working memory was measured by the visually cued recall (VCR) task (Zelazo et al., 2002) and several memory tasks from the Mental Scale of BSID. Based on model-fitting analyses, both emotion regulation and working memory were significantly influenced by genetic and nonshared environmental factors. Shared environmental effects were significant for working memory, but not for emotion regulation. Only genetic factors significantly contributed to the covariation between emotion regulation and working memory.
emotion regulation; working memory; genetics; twins; toddlerhood
Recent acceptance and mindfulness based cognitive-behavioral interventions explicitly target the clarification and commitment to a purpose in life. Yet, scant empirical evidence exists on the value of purpose as a mechanism relevant to psychopathology or well-being. The present research explored daily (within-person) fluctuations in purposeful pursuits and well-being in adults with and without the generalized subtype of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD); a community sample of 84 (41 with generalized SAD). After completing an idiographic measure of purpose in life, participants monitored their effort and progress toward this purpose along with their well-being each day. . Across two weeks of daily reports, we found that healthy controls reported increased self-esteem, meaning in life, positive emotions, and decreased negative emotions. People with SAD experienced substantial boosts in well-being indicators on days characterized by significant effort or progress toward their life purpose. We found no evidence for the reverse direction (with well-being boosting the amount of effort or progress that people with SAD devote to their purpose) and effects could not be attributed to comorbid mood or anxiety disorders. Results provide evidence for how commitment to a purpose in life enriches the daily existence of people with SAD. The current study supports principles that underlie what many clinicians are already doing with clients for SAD.
social anxiety disorder; purpose in life; experience-sampling; major depressive disorder
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an established program shown to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. MBSR is believed to alter emotional responding by modifying cognitive–affective processes. Given that social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by emotional and attentional biases as well as distorted negative self-beliefs, we examined MBSR-related changes in the brain-behavior indices of emotional reactivity and regulation of negative self-beliefs in patients with SAD. Sixteen patients underwent functional MRI while reacting to negative self-beliefs and while regulating negative emotions using 2 types of attention deployment emotion regulation—breath-focused attention and distraction-focused attention. Post-MBSR, 14 patients completed neuroimaging assessments. Compared with baseline, MBSR completers showed improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem. During the breath-focused attention task (but not the distraction-focused attention task), they also showed (a) decreased negative emotion experience, (b) reduced amygdala activity, and (c) increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment. MBSR training in patients with SAD may reduce emotional reactivity while enhancing emotion regulation. These changes might facilitate reduction in SAD-related avoidance behaviors, clinical symptoms, and automatic emotional reactivity to negative self-beliefs in adults with SAD.
social anxiety; neuroimaging; mindfulness; attention; emotion
Given extensive evidence of the importance of relationships with friends during development, a large body of research has examined the correlates of these significant social experiences. Most of this research, however, has examined either individual characteristics (e.g., behavior, personality) or contextual factors (e.g., family), and most of the work has studied relationships during childhood. The present study extended previous research by examining how both an individual factor (adolescent distress tolerance) and a contextual factor (parental response to adolescent distress) are linked to adolescents’ friendships. Adolescents (n = 161) completed two behavioral measures of distress tolerance and parents reported about their responses to adolescent distress. Although distress tolerance and parental responses to distress were not directly associated with adolescents’ positive or negative friendship experiences, for adolescents with low distress tolerance, harsh parental responses were negatively associated with adolescents’ positive friendship quality. Further, for adolescents whose parents used harsh responses to distress, distress tolerance was negatively associated with adolescents’ positive friendship quality. Results highlight the importance of studying both individual and familial factors related to adolescents’ social functioning.
distress tolerance; parental responses to distress; adolescent friendships
When event-related potentials are measured during a recognition task, items that have previously been presented typically elicit a larger late (400–800 ms) positive potential than new items. Recent data, however, suggest that emotional, but not neutral, pictures show ERP evidence of spontaneous retrieval when presented in a free-viewing task (Ferrari, Bradley, Codispoti & Lang, 2012). In two experiments, we further investigated the brain dynamics of implicit and explicit retrieval. In Experiment 1, brain potentials were measured during a semantic categorization task, which did not explicitly probe episodic memory, but which, like a recognition task, required an active decision and a button press, and were compared to those elicited during recognition and free viewing. Explicit recognition prompted a late enhanced positivity for previously presented, compared to new, pictures regardless of hedonic content. In contrast, only emotional pictures showed an old-new difference when the task did not explicitly probe episodic memory, either when either making an active categorization decision regarding picture content, or when simply viewing pictures. In Experiment 2, however, neutral pictures did prompt a significant old-new ERP difference during subsequent free viewing when emotionally arousing pictures were not included in the encoding set. These data suggest that spontaneous retrieval is heightened for salient cues, perhaps reflecting heightened attention and elaborative processing at encoding.
emotion; memory; recognition; ERPs; pictures; explicit; implicit
Does compassion feel pleasant or unpleasant? People tend to categorize compassion as a pleasant or positive emotion, but laboratory compassion inductions, which present another’s suffering, may elicit unpleasant feelings. Across two studies, we examined whether prototypical conceptualizations of compassion (as pleasant) differ from experiences of compassion (as unpleasant). Following laboratory-based neutral or compassion inductions, participants made abstract judgments about compassion relative to various emotion-related adjectives, thereby providing a prototypical conceptualization of compassion. Participants also rated their own affective states, thereby indicating experiences of compassion. Conceptualizations of compassion were pleasant across neutral and compassion inductions. Following exposure to others’ suffering, however, participants felt increased levels of compassion and unpleasant affect, but not pleasant affect. Following neutral inductions, participants reported more pleasant than unpleasant affect, with moderate levels of compassion. Thus, prototypical conceptualizations of compassion are pleasant, but experiences of compassion can feel pleasant or unpleasant. The implications for emotion theory in general are discussed.
emotion; subjective experience; multidimensional scaling; affective circumplex; Conceptual Act Theory
Older adults have demonstrated an avoidance of negative information presumably with a goal of greater emotional satisfaction. Understanding whether avoidance of negative information is a voluntary, motivated choice, or an involuntary, automatic response will be important to differentiate, as decision-making often involves emotional factors. With the use of an emotional framing event-related potential (ERP) paradigm, the present study investigated whether older adults could alter neural responses to negative stimuli through verbal reframing of evaluative response options. The late-positive potential (LPP) response of 50 older adults and 50 younger adults was recorded while participants categorized emotional images in one of two framing conditions: positive (“more or less positive”) or negative (“more or less negative”). It was hypothesized that older adults would be able to overcome a presumed tendency to down-regulate neural responding to negative stimuli in the negative framing condition thus leading to larger LPP wave amplitudes to negative images. A similar effect was predicted for younger adults but for positively valenced images such that LPP responses would be increased in the positive framing condition compared to the negative framing condition. Overall, younger adults' LPP wave amplitudes were modulated by framing condition, including a reduction in the negativity bias in the positive frame. Older adults' neural responses were not significantly modulated even though task-related behavior supported the notion that older adults were able to successfully adopt the negative framing condition.
aging; emotion; IAPS; event-related potential; late positive potential
Are people who are best able to implement strategies to regulate their emotional expressive behavior happier and more successful than their counterparts? Although past research has examined individual variation in knowledge of the most effective emotion regulation strategies, little is known about how individual differences in the ability to actually implement these strategies, as assessed objectively in the laboratory, is associated with external criteria. In two studies, we examined how individual variation in the ability to modify emotional expressive behavior in response to evocative stimuli is related to well-being and financial success. Study 1 showed that individuals who can best suppress their emotional reaction to an acoustic startle are happiest with their lives. Study 2 showed that individuals who can best amplify their emotional reaction to a disgust-eliciting movie are happiest with their lives and have the highest disposable income and socioeconomic status. Thus, being able to implement emotion regulation strategies in the laboratory is closely linked to well-being and financial success.
Two fundamental issues in emotion theory and research concern: (a) the role of emotion in promoting response coherence across different emotion systems; and (b) the role of awareness of bodily sensations in the experience of emotion. The present study poses a question bridging the two domains; namely, whether training in Vipassana meditation or dance, both of which promote attention to certain kinds of bodily sensations, is associated with greater coherence between the subjective and physiological aspects of emotion. We used lag correlations to examine second-by-second coherence between subjective emotional experience and heart period within individuals across four different films. Participants were either: (a) experienced Vipassana meditators (attention to visceral sensations), (b) experienced dancers (attention to somatic sensations), and (c) controls with no meditation or dance experience. Results indicated a linear relationship in coherence, with meditators having highest levels, dancers having intermediary levels, and controls having lowest levels. We conclude that the coherence between subjective and cardiac aspects of emotion is greater in those who have specialized training that promotes greater body awareness.
body awareness; coherence; emotional responses; meditation; physiological responses
A growing body of research has examined the regulation of negative emotions. However, little is known about the physiological processes underlying the regulation of positive emotions, such as when amusement is enhanced during periods of stress, or attenuated in the pursuit of social goals. The aim of this study was to examine the psychophysiological consequences of the cognitive up- and down-regulation of amusement. To address this goal, participants viewed brief, amusing film clips while measurements of experience, behavior, and peripheral physiology were collected. Using an event-related design, participants viewed each film under the instructions either to a) watch, b) use cognitive reappraisal to increase amusement, or c) use cognitive reappraisal to decrease amusement. Findings indicated that emotion experience, emotion-expressive behavior, and autonomic physiology (including heart rate, respiration, and sympathetic nervous system activation) were enhanced and diminished in accordance with regulation instructions. This finding is a critical extension of the growing literature on the voluntary regulation of emotion, and has the potential to help us better understand how people use humor in the service of coping and social goals.
emotion regulation; amusement; reappraisal; psychophysiology; positive emotion
Although adolescents’ emotional lives are thought to be more turbulent than those of adults, it is unknown whether this difference is attributable to developmental changes in emotional reactivity or emotion regulation. Study 1 addressed this question by presenting healthy individuals aged 10–23 with negative and neutral pictures and asking them to respond naturally or use cognitive reappraisal to down-regulate their responses on a trial-by-trial basis. Results indicated that age exerted both linear and quadratic effects on regulation success but was unrelated to emotional reactivity. Study 2 replicated and extended these findings using a different reappraisal task and further showed that situational (i.e., social vs. nonsocial stimuli) and dispositional (i.e., level of rejection sensitivity) social factors interacted with age to predict regulation success: young adolescents were less successful at regulating responses to social than to nonsocial stimuli, particularly if the adolescents were high in rejection sensitivity. Taken together, these results have important implications for the inclusion of emotion regulation in models of emotional and cognitive development.
emotion regulation; adolescent development; rejection sensitivity; reappraisal
Memory is susceptible to illusions in the form of false memories. Prior research found, however, that sad moods reduce false memories. The current experiment had two goals: (1) to determine whether affect influences retrieval processes, and (2) to determine whether affect influences the strength and the persistence of false memories. Happy or sad moods were induced either before or after learning word lists designed to produce false memories. Control groups did not experience a mood induction. We found that sad moods reduced false memories only when induced before learning. Signal detection analyses confirmed that sad moods induced prior to learning reduced activation of nonpresented critical lures suggesting that they came to mind less often. Affective states, however, did not influence retrieval effects. We conclude that negative affective states promote item-specific processing, which reduces false memories in a similar way as using an explicitly guided cognitive control strategy.
emotion; cognition; false memory; processing styles; recognition
While age-related declines in facial expression recognition are well documented, previous research relied mostly on isolated faces devoid of context. We investigated the effects of context on age differences in recognition of facial emotions and in visual scanning patterns of emotional faces. While their eye movements were monitored, younger and older participants viewed facial expressions (i.e., anger, disgust) in contexts that were emotionally congruent, incongruent, or neutral to the facial expression to be identified. Both age groups had highest recognition rates of facial expressions in the congruent context, followed by the neutral context, and recognition rates in the incongruent context were worst. These context effects were more pronounced for older adults. Compared to younger adults, older adults exhibited a greater benefit from congruent contextual information, regardless of facial expression. Context also influenced the pattern of visual scanning characteristics of emotional faces in a similar manner across age groups. In addition, older adults initially attended more to context overall. Our data highlight the importance of considering the role of context in understanding emotion recognition in adulthood.
emotion recognition; facial expressions; gaze patterns; context; aging; emotion recognition
People vary greatly in their dispositions to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and strongly react to social rejection (rejection sensitivity, RS) with implications for social functioning and health. Here, we examined how RS influences learning about social threat. Using a classical fear conditioning task, we established that high as compared to low (HRS vs. LRS) individuals displayed a resistance to extinction of the conditioned response to angry faces, but not to neutral faces or non-social stimuli. Our findings suggest that RS biases the flexible updating of acquired expectations for threat, which helps to explain how RS operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fear conditioning; Rejection sensitivity; Social threat; Extinction; Skin conductance response
Emotion regulation can be achieved in various ways, but few studies have evaluated the extent to which the neurocognitive substrates of these distinct operations overlap. In the study reported here, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure activity in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex of ten participants who completed two independent tasks of emotion regulation – reappraisal, measuring intentional emotion regulation, and affect labeling, measuring incidental emotion regulation – with the objective of identifying potential overlap in the neural substrates underlying each task. Analyses focused on a priori regions of interest in the amygdala and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG).For both tasks, fMRI showed decreased amygdala activation during “emotion regulation” compared to “emotion” conditions. During reappraisal, this decrease in amygdala activation was accompanied by a proportional decrease in emotional intensity ratings; during affect labeling, the decrease in amygdala activation correlated with self-reported aggression. Importantly, across participants, the magnitude of decrease in amygdala activation during reappraisal correlated with the magnitude of decrease during affect labeling, even though the tasks were administered on separate days, and values indexing amygdala activation during each task were extracted independently of one another. In addition, IFG-amygdala connectivity, assessed via psychophysiological interaction analysis, overlapped between tasks in two regions within the right IFG. The results suggest that the two tasks recruit overlapping regions of prefrontal cortex, resulting in similar reductions in amygdala activation, regardless of the strategy employed. Intentional and incidental forms of emotion regulation, despite their phenomenological differences, may therefore converge on a common neurocognitive pathway.
Emotion regulation; cognitive reappraisal; affect labeling; amygdala; prefrontal cortex; inferior frontal gyrus