Conscious Regulation of Negative Emotion is Reflected in the Late Positive Potential


Jason S. Moser, Greg Hajcak, Emily Bukay and Robert F. Simons


Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA



The ability to regulate emotions is thought to be central to human well-being.  Dysfunction of this ability has been related to psychopathology, including both depression and anxiety.  Because much of this research has been limited to self-report methodology, little is known about the physiological underpinnings of emotion regulation.  The current study builds on previous research by utilizing event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine neural correlates of emotion regulation to unpleasant visual stimuli.  Specifically, we examined the effects of emotion regulation on the late positive potential (LPP)—an ERP component shown to be sensitive to the motivational significance of visual stimuli.  To this end, ERPs were measured in 19 college students during three conditions: a “view” condition wherein participants were instructed to simply view negative and neutral pictures, and both a “suppress” and “enhance” condition wherein participants were instructed to decrease and increase the intensity of their emotional response to negative pictures, respectively.  Consistent with previous reports, the LPP was larger when elicited by the negative compared to neutral stimuli.  Additionally, the LPP was significantly larger when participants were instructed to “enhance” their emotional response to the negative stimuli compared to when they were instructed to “suppress” their emotional response to the negative stimuli.  Finally, the LPP was significantly reduced during both the “suppress” and “enhance” conditions compared to the “view” condition.  These results will be discussed in terms of the utility of ERPs and other psychophysiological measures for studying emotion regulation in healthy and clinical populations. 


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