Emotional well-being depends on the ability to successfully engage a variety of coping strategies to regulate affective responses. Most studies have investigated the effectiveness of emotion regulation (ER) strategies that are deployed relatively later in the timing of processing that leads to full emotional experiences (i.e. reappraisal and suppression). Strategies engaged in earlier stages of emotion processing, such as those involved in attentional deployment, have also been investigated, but relatively less is known about their mechanisms. Here, we investigate the effectiveness of self-guided focused attention (FA) in reducing the impact of unpleasant pictures on the experienced negative affect. Participants viewed a series of composite images with distinguishable foreground (FG, either negative or neutral) and background (BG, always neutral) areas and were asked to focus on the FG or BG content. Eye-tracking data were recorded while performing the FA task, along with participants’ ratings of their experienced emotional response following the presentation of each image. First, proving the effectiveness of self-guided FA in down-regulating negative affect, focusing away from the emotional content of pictures (BG focus) was associated with lower emotional ratings. Second, trial-based eye-tracking data corroborated these results, showing that spending less time gazing within the negative FG predicted reductions in emotional ratings. Third, this reduction was largest among subjects who habitually use suppression to regulate their emotions. Overall, the present findings expand the evidence regarding the FA’s effectiveness in controlling the impact of emotional stimuli and inform the development of training interventions emphasizing attentional control to improve emotional well-being.
- affective perception
- emotion control
- emotion-cognition interaction
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Psychology