Launching reappraisal: it's less common than you might think

Emotion. 2015 Feb;15(1):73-7. doi: 10.1037/emo0000011. Epub 2014 Jul 7.


Cognitive reappraisal is thought to be ubiquitous. However, no studies have quantified how frequently people reappraise (vs. letting their emotional response go unregulated). To address this issue, the authors created a laboratory decision context in which participants watched a series of negatively valenced images, and in each case had the option of electing to reappraise to decrease negative affect. Given the many benefits and few costs associated with reappraisal, we expected that most images would be reappraised. However, to our surprise, participants implemented reappraisals for only 16% of images (Study 1). Regulatory rates remained low for both low- and high-intensity images, even when another regulatory option (i.e., distraction) was available (Study 2). The authors hypothesized that participants did not proactively reappraise because there were hidden costs associated with reappraisal. They considered 2 classes of costs: overcoming default bias and cognitive effort, and they measured the percentage of trials for which participants chose to reappraise using a fully crossed 2 × 2 design that examined the effects of removing defaults and of providing support in creating reappraisals. Removing defaults, but not providing reappraisal support, increased rates of reappraisal (Study 3). Everyday decision-making frequently involves default options. These results suggest that contextual variables (such as the presence of defaults) may play a large role in the decision to regulate emotions.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological