Effects of incidental positive emotion and cognitive reappraisal on affective responses to negative stimuli

Cogn Emot. 2019 Sep;33(6):1155-1168. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2018.1541789. Epub 2018 Nov 1.


Previous studies have identified two powerful ways to regulate emotional responses to a stressor: experiencing incidental positive emotions and using cognitive reappraisal to reframe the stressor. Several cognitive and motivational theories of positive emotion support the formulation that incidental positive emotions may facilitate cognitive reappraisal. To test the separate and interacting effects of positive emotions and cognitive reappraisal, we first adapted an established picture-based reappraisal paradigm by interspersing blocks of positive emotion inducing and neutral pictures. Across two pre-registered studies (Studies 1, 2), reappraisal effectively decreased self-reported negative emotions and increased self-reported positive emotions; however, experiencing incidental positive emotions did not facilitate reappraisal success. In another preregistered study (Study 3), we employed a more powerful positive emotion induction via virtual reality (VR), used a social stress anticipation task, and instructed participants to reappraise the anticipated stressor positively. Although there was a robust effect of the positive emotion induction (relative to the neutral induction) on feeling more positive emotions throughout stress anticipation, the results again indicated that incidental positive emotions did not facilitate cognitive reappraisal. We propose that incidental positive emotions and cognitive reappraisal may constitute separate pathways of influence when regulating one's responses to negative events.

Keywords: Positive emotion; cognitive reappraisal; emotion regulation; stress; virtual reality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult