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Title: Emotion suppression and its impact on positive emotion experience
Author: Pacini, Adele
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis aimed to examine the impact of emotion suppression of negative material on subsequent reactivity to positive material with a group of MDD participants and healthy controls. A mixed design laboratory based experiment was used, where in the first condition participants firstly “just viewed” a sad film clip, and in the second condition they suppressed their emotions to a different sad film clip. Before and after each of the film clips, positive self referent and non self referent material was presented. Based on findings from Dunn et al. (2009), Liverant et al. (2008), and Kashdan and Breen (2008) it was suggested that the suppression of negative emotional experience would down-regulate negative affect, but with the consequence of reducing reactivity to subsequently presented material, including positive. The underlying rationale was that alterations in emotion regulation, and specifically, emotion suppression, may be a contributory factor in the processing disturbances, which occur in MDD, particularly anhedonia. These ideas overlap with current clinical thinking, where interventions such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT) have begun to target both emotion regulation difficulties, and explore the role of acceptance of emotional experience, as opposed to emotion suppression. The results showed that there were no changes in reactivity to positive nonself referent material as a function of emotion regulation type. However, the results from the positive self referent material, showed that emotion suppression to negative material influenced subsequent reactivity to it. For the control group, the results replicated the findings from the Dunn et al. (2009) study. Namely, a consequence of emotion suppression was the dampening of positive reactivity to positive self referent material following suppression of emotions to a negative film clip. However, for the MDD group, the opposite pattern was obtained, participants had a greater reduction in positive reactivity following the view condition, compared to the suppress condition. This effect occurred despite higher suppression effort reported following the suppress condition. With regard to emotion reactivity more generally, across both conditions, there was significantly higher ratings of sadness to the positive memories in the MDD group compared to the control group, there were also significantly lower ratings of happiness to the positive images in the MDD group relative to the control group. With regard to the negative videos, there was no evidence of elevated sadness from the MDD in response to the negative videos; however the MDD group did report significantly lower happiness ratings following the sad videos. These findings offered support for both the positive attenuation view, and partially for the ECI hypothesis. A number of interpretations of the data have been offered, with regard to the differences between the control and MDD group on the effects of suppression. In particular, the idea of “ego depletion” as a result of the suppress condition, with subsequent implications for reactivity related to self control. Executive function processes were implicated as generic processing factors, which are implicated both in emotion regulation and in self control and self regulation. The clinical implications from these results focused on the role of flexibility and of habitual suppression in emotional experience. Finally, future research areas were suggested, including examining the role of executive function load in a precise way, and looking at the time course of emotional reactivity following specific types of regulation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available