Cognitive reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that involves changing the trajectory of an emotional response by reinterpreting the meaning of the emotional stimulus. Emotion regulation is defined as follows: "the use of deliberate and effortful processes to change a spontaneous emotional state. For example, a person may fail a series of tests and think negatively about his or her performance upon first receiving the results. The person revisits his or her emotional response to the situation and later views the results as a way to challenge and better him or herself.
This process involves two parts: a) recognition of one’s negative response, and b) reinterpretation of the situation to either reduce the severity of the negative response, or exchange the negative attitude for a more positive attitude. This strategy is one of the three broad categories of coping which include appraisal-focused behavior, problem-focused behavior, and emotion-focused behavior. It differs from the other two methods of coping because it primarily addresses an individual’s perception of a situation, rather than directly altering environmental stressors or emotional responses to those stressors. See cognitive appraisal.
Ochsner & Gross (2008), explaining the results of SCAN research, stated that cognitive reappraisal activated areas of prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex; however, different areas were activated depending on the kind of cognitive reappraisal.
Factors in reappraisal
Cognitive reappraisal appears to operate differently in men and women. McRae (2008) found no difference in the emotional reactivity of men and women, and both men and women experienced a decreased negative state through the use of cognitive appraisal. McRae (2008) further found that emotional response differences in gender were due more to biochemical influences on emotion regulation than emotional reactivity. Based on the observations of gender-specific active regions in male and female brains during appraisal, McRae (2008) suggested that men may be able to process cognitive emotion regulation with less difficulty than women.
According to Opitz (2012), younger adults can reduce the severity of unpleasant emotions more effectively than older adults; however, older adults are more readily able to increase the unpleasant emotions evoked from a negative stimulus. The study involved sixteen younger adults, between the ages of 18–25, and fifteen older adults, between the ages of 55–65, who were asked to view neutral and unpleasant images projected onto a screen. The subjects were instructed to gaze at a particular image, which directed the subjects’ gaze towards an area of interest by fading out everything but a square area of the original image. These conclusions are a result of participant self-report ratings of emotional intensity when prompted with a negative stimulus.
The cultural norms and values of a group of people define which emotions are appropriate in certain situations, and these established cultural guidelines deem how these emotions should be regulated within acceptable social standards. For example, in her study, Haga suggests Americans value expressing their positive emotions outwardly and in contrast, have a tendency of suppressing negative emotions. This is possibly due to the cultural value of personal pride and success, and a common disconnect between generations or the consequences of dysfunctional household lifestyles, respectively. The study of correlation between culture and emotion regulation is still in progress, largely due to a desire to establish universality and commonalities amongst cultures.
Effects on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Although cognitive reappraisal is mainly utilized to reduce the unpleasant emotional arousal evoked by a stressful event, it also has the potential to increase negative emotions by allowing an individual to overthink the negative stimulus and perceive it worse than initially. Additionally, cognitive reappraisal can cause a pleasant emotional stimulus to seem less positive. This is due to the reduced prefrontal control in a depressed individual, which usually results in impairment in decision-making and accurate perception of situations.
Troy, Wilhelm, Shallcross, Mauss, & Phelps (2010) studied how cognitive reappraisal correlated to both stress and depression in the context of high life stress. Patients with HIV showed better outcomes through self-reported positive appraisal. A sample of caregivers of patients with Multiple Sclerosis reportedly resulted in a similar outcome; stress and depression were both alleviated through the practice of positive appraisal. Overall, studies have shown that cognitive reappraisal can aid a patient's depressive symptoms in the context of high life stress.
Kivity & Huppert (2016) found that cognitive reappraisal training was moderately beneficial to people who experienced high social anxiety. Further research about the viability of cognitive reappraisal training in the treatment of anxiety is warranted.
- Ray, R., McRae, K., Ochsner, K., Gross, J. & Phelps, Elizabeth A. (2010). Cognitive reappraisal of negative affect: converging cvidence from EMG and self-report. Emotion, 10(4), 587-592. doi:10.1037/a0019015
- Eysenck, Michael W. (2012). Fundamentals of cognition. New York: Psychology Press. p. 393. ISBN 978-1-84872-070-1.
The use of deliberate and effortful processes to change a spontaneous emotional state.
- Ochsner, Kevin N.; Gross, James J. (2008). "Cognitive emotion regulation: insights from social cognitive and affective neuroscience. (Report).". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 17 (2): 153.
- McRae, K., Ochsnerm K., Mauss, I., Gabrieli, J., & Gross, J. (2008). Gender Differences in Emotion Regulation: An fMRI Study of Cognitive Reappraisal. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 11(2), 143. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- Opitz, P., Rauch, L., Terry, D., & Urry, H. (2012). Prefrontal mediation of age differences in cognitive reappraisal. Neurobiology of Aging, 33(4), 645-655. Retrieved 17 June 2013. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2010.06.004
- Zhang, W., Li, F., Qin, S., & Luo, J. (2012). The Integrative Effects of Cognitive Reappraisal on Negative Affect: Associated Changes in Secretory Immunoglobulin A, Unpleasantness and ERP Activity. PLoS ONE, 7(2), E30761. Retrieved 10 June 2013. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030761
- Troy, A.; Wilhelm, F.; Shallcross, A.; Mauss, I.; Phelps, Elizabeth A. (2010). "Seeing the silver lining: cognitive reappraisal ability moderates the relationship between stress and depressive symptoms". Emotion. 10 (6): 783–795. doi:10.1037/a0020262.
- Kivity, Y.; Huppert, J. D. (2016). "Does cognitive reappraisal reduce anxiety? A daily diary study of micro-intervention with individuals with high social anxiety.". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 84 (3): 269–283. doi:10.1037/ccp0000075.