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From: ScienceDaily (1:317/3)
To: All
Date: Mon, 15.03.21 23:30
Lab studies of emotion and well-being ma
Lab studies of emotion and well-being may be missing real-world anxiety
Test participants' natural level of anxiety may cloud findings of
laboratory psychology studies

March 15, 2021
Duke University
Psychologists have been studying emotional health and well-being
for decades, often having people engage in contrived laboratory
experiments and respond to self-report questionnaires to understand
their emotional experiences and the strategies they use to manage
stress. But those hundreds of studies may have missed a pretty big
complicating factor - baseline anxiety levels of the subjects --
argues a new study.

For decades, psychologists' study of emotional health and well-being has
involved contrived laboratory experiments self-report questionnaires
to understand the emotional experiences and strategies used by study
participants to manage stress.

But those hundreds of studies may have taken for granted a pretty
big complicating factor, argues a new study from Duke University and
Dartmouth College.

The study, which appears March 12 in PLOS One, says the background level
of anxiety a person normally experiences may interfere with how they
behave in the lab setting.

"The paper is not saying all of this work is wrong," emphasized first
author Daisy Burr, a graduate student in psychology and neuroscience
at Duke. "It's just saying, 'Hey, there's this really interesting
unknown here that we should all be examining.' " Most of the research
on emotional regulation has focused on two strategies: Reappraisal
and suppression. People who are naturally more anxious tend toward
suppressing these feelings or pretending them away, "but that's kind of
a surface-level technique that's not going to have any long-term impact,"
Burr said.

The reappraisal tactic has people face the stressor and try to change
what it means to them -- overcoming their fears -- and that tends to be
a little more long-lasting, she said.

Indeed, prior research finds that people who employ reappraisal more
often are less anxious and depressed, Burr said.

Psychologists care about emotion regulation because it helps keep us
all sane and on track.

"Emotion regulation is a buffer against the really negative effects that
stress can have on your life," Burr said. "Stress is always going to be
there, but it doesn't have to ruin your life." Burr wondered how anxiety
influences the way people naturally tend to regulate their emotions.

She and two colleagues taught Dartmouth undergraduates how to suppress or
reappraise an emotional stimulus, and then put them through a standardized
emotional regulation training protocol that has been used in hundreds
of studies. For each set of stimuli, the participants were instructed
to actively suppress or reappraise their response or simply to look at
it without receiving any instruction.

As participants went through this set of stimuli, the researchers
measured three physiological responses: Skin conductance (a measure of
stress used in the polygraph test) and two sensors for the activity of
specific facial muscles.

The three measures were then combined to create a "signature" for each
test participant that captured when they were suppressing, reappraising
or naturally engaging without instruction.

Researchers then compared response signatures for all 52 participants and
found in the uninstructed situation where they weren't told how to cope,
people who were naturally more anxious were more likely to suppress. Those
who were less anxious tended toward reappraisal.

While that all fits with what the research would predict, they also
found that anxiety, not self-reported regulation strategies, predicted
how participants were regulating.

"There's a disconnect between how people are self-reporting their emotion
regulation and how they're regulating in the lab," Burr said. "A person's
anxiety may be this more fundamental process or disposition that kind
of overrides how you regulate, at least in unrealistic environments,
such as in the lab," Burr said.

And if that's true, Burr said future research should explore this
disconnect to better understand the right way to rely on self-report
measures and how to realistically study emotion -- inside and outside
the lab.

"This is really a puzzle," Burr said. "It could be that people are
not self- reporting their true regulation styles, or it could be that
how people are regulating in the lab isn't mapping on to how they're
regulating in the real world." Part of the answer to this problem
entails finding study methods that get out of the lab, which Burr and
her Duke Ph.D. adviser Gregory Samanez-Larkin have already done.

They used text messaging during different times of the day to reach study
participants where they are and assess their emotions in that moment. As
a bonus, they can use these tools to study people outside the traditional
demographics of lab studies: Undergraduate students who were enticed to
the lab by coffee cards or extra credits in Psych 101.

Either way, more research is going to be needed. The paper has been
shared as a pre-print since January and Burr said the feedback from her
peers has been positive so far.

Story Source: Materials provided by Duke_University. Original written
by Karl Leif Bates.

Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1. Daisy A. Burr, Rachel G. Pizzie, David J. M. Kraemer. Anxiety, not
regulation tendency, predicts how individuals regulate in
the laboratory: An exploratory comparison of self-report
and psychophysiology. PLOS ONE, 2021; 16 (3): e0247246 DOI:

Link to news story:

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