Regulating emotion through distancing: A taxonomy, neurocognitive model, and supporting meta-analysis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Jan:96:155-173. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.04.023. Epub 2018 Nov 28.


Distancing is a type of emotion regulation that involves simulating a new perspective to alter the psychological distance and emotional impact of a stimulus. The effectiveness and versatility of distancing relative to other types of emotion regulation make it a promising tool for clinical applications. However, the neurocognitive mechanisms of this tactic are unclear, and inconsistencies in terminology and methods across studies make it difficult to synthesize the literature. To promote more effective research, we propose a taxonomy of distancing within the broader context of emotion regulation strategies; review the effects of this tactic; and offer a preliminary neurocognitive model describing key cognitive processes and their neural bases. Our model emphasizes three components-self-projection, affective self-reflection, and cognitive control. Additionally, we present results from a supporting meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of distancing. These efforts are presented within the overarching goals of supporting effective applications of distancing in laboratory, clinical, and other real-world contexts, and advancing understanding of the relevant high-level cognitive functions in the brain.

Keywords: Distancing; Emotion regulation; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Meta-analysis; Reappraisal.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotional Intelligence / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological