What is it about?

When faced with a stressful or emotion eliciting situation some people tend to reappraise, or reframe, their feelings about it to change their response. For example, you might see an upcoming job interview as an opportunity to present the best version of yourself rather than this situation where you are going to be judged negatively. In the laboratory, when we ask people to reappraise a stressful task we typically see "better" stress responses. For example, people tend to report less negative emotion, more positive emotion, and when we look at their biological or physiological stress response we typically see an "active" cardiovascular response. This active stress response, where cardiac output increases and total peripheral resistance decreases, is thought to be an adaptive response and means the body is rising to the challenge (i.e., blood flow increases and as it increases the resistance on our vessels decreases to a similar degree). Some people tend to suppress their emotions in day-to-day life, and in the laboratory when we tell people to suppress their emotions during a task we typically see an exaggerated or heightened stress response, where people's blood pressure increases more than people who were not told to suppress their emotions. It is well-established that people who show exaggerated blood pressure responding to stress are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease later in life. We wished to explore if the habitual tendency, that is the tendency to engage in reappraisal and suppression in day-to-day life, would be associated with stress responses in the laboratory when people responded naturally to a stress task (i.e., no instructions to engage in reappraisal or suppression). We also wanted to see if the emotional content of the stress task would matter (i.e., neutral versus negative emotion speech task). People completed a standardized laboratory stress study, with a 20-minute rest period (acclimatization period), a 10-minute resting baseline where blood pressure was measured continuously, a 5-minute speech task, a 10-minute rest (to allow blood pressure to return to normal) and another 5-minute speech task. For one task, participants spoke about negative emotion words that appeared on the screen (while being video-recorded). For the other task, participants spoke about neutral emotion words. The order of the block of words (negative versus neutral) was random. We found that when faced with the negative-emotion stress task people who reported using reappraisal in day-to-day life more frequently showed a healthier cardiovascular response - an active response. Whereas, people who reported suppressing their emotions in day-to-day life showed an exaggerated blood pressure response to both tasks.

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Why is it important?

As our cardiovascular responses to stress predict if we develop health conditions such as cardiovascular disease later in life, it is important to see what influences our stress responses. In doing so we might be able to find ways to protect our health. From these findings it appears reappraising our responses to stress and emotional events might be beneficial, whereas if we try to suppress our emotions this might be damaging to health. However, this study did not look at these relationships over time - just at one point in time. Further research is needed on this.


While some research has looked at individual differences in how we typically use reappraisal or suppression, much research focuses on instructing the use of these strategies in the laboratory. Arguably, how we use these strategies in day-to-day life might be more predictive of future long-term health. Therefore, we wanted to test this hypothesis - if trait levels of using these strategies would be related to stress responses. This is just an initial step in this research and not without limitations. It would be particularly interesting to examine these relationships over time.

Dr Siobhán M Griffin
University of Limerick

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Individual differences in emotion regulation and cardiovascular responding to stress., Emotion, March 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/emo0001037.
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