Unpacking cognitive reappraisal: goals, tactics, and outcomes

Emotion. 2012 Apr;12(2):250-5. doi: 10.1037/a0026351. Epub 2011 Dec 12.


Studies of emotion regulation typically contrast two or more strategies (e.g., reappraisal vs. suppression) and ignore variation within each strategy. To address such variation, we focused on cognitive reappraisal and considered the effects of goals (i.e., what people are trying to achieve) and tactics (i.e., what people actually do) on outcomes (i.e., how affective responses change). To examine goals, we randomly assigned participants to either increase positive emotion or decrease negative emotion to a negative stimulus. To examine tactics, we categorized participants' reports of how they reappraised. To examine reappraisal outcomes, we measured experience and electrodermal responding. Findings indicated that (a) the goal of increasing positive emotion led to greater increases in positive affect and smaller decreases in skin conductance than the goal of decreasing negative emotion, and (b) use of the reality challenge tactic was associated with smaller increases in positive affect during reappraisal. These findings suggest that reappraisal can be implemented in the service of different emotion goals, using different tactics. Such differences are associated with different outcomes, and they should be considered in future research and applied attempts to maximize reappraisal success.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Arousal*
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Reality Testing
  • Young Adult