Public Release: 

Is expressive suppression effective in reducing negative emotion?

Science China Press

A recent study based on a Chinese sample gives an answer to this question. The research shows that in Chinese culture, emotion- expressive suppression is not only able to dampen negative emotion effectively, but also dampen negative emotion faster than Cognitive reappraisal. This sheds much light on how to quickly regulate negative emotion in urgent situations, particularly when people from East-Asian cultures are concerned.

This study has been published in SCIENCE CHINA: Life Sciences (IN CHINESE) , which is titled "The efficiency of negative emotion regulation: the comparison between cognitive reappraisal and expression suppression". Using high temporal-resolution Event-Related Potentials and a rigorous experimental design, the authors provided an important perspective for the solution of a long-lasting issue of public concern: how to reduce the impact of negative emotion efficiently, especially in urgent and demanding situations where one needs to dampen socially inappropriate emotion (such as rage and impulse) very quickly. The corresponding author of this paper is Dr.Jiajin Yuan, an associate professor and a principal investigator in the Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University of P.R.China.

It may cause serious health and social problems if negative emotions can not be reduced effectively,that is why it is so important to study how to dampen negative emotion quickly and effectively. Many prior studies based on Caucasian populations indicate that emotion-expressive suppression is not only unable to dampen negative emotion, but is also at a risk of enhancing physiological consequences of emotional reaction. Cognitive reappraisal, however, can effectively reduce the negative emotion experiences and emotion-related physiological responses. However, different from European-American cultures that encourage free expression of emotion, Chinese culture is characterized by the collectivistic cultural norms, which highlight relational harmony and self-discipline. Thus, people from East-Asian nations may be culturally trained to suppress the expression of negative emotions. Based on these considerations, the authors hypothesized that expressive suppression may be similar to, or even better than, reappraisal in regulating the emotional impacts of negative stimuli in Chinese people.

Using emotional scenes for the induction of negative emotion. The results of this study confirmed the authors' hypothesis: cognitive reappraisal and expression suppression are both effective in reducing the negative emotional experiences induced by the arousing scenes, to a similar extent. Furthermore, by the analyses of electrophysiological data, it was found that expression suppression reduced negative emotional reactions at a faster speed than cognitive reappraisal. The brain potentials related to negative emotion were reduced before 1 second post stimulus during expressive suppression; while cognitive reappraisal did not decrease emotion-related brain potentials until about 1.5 seconds post stimulus. However, the faster reduction of emotion-related physiological consequences during expressive suppression is based on heavier consumption of cognitive resources, in comparison with cognitive reappraisal.

These findings give insights into the regulation of socially inappropriate emotion reactions, especially in urgent situations and when east-Asian cultural settings are involved. However, what this study observed is a short-term effect of emotion-expressive suppression, and this effect should be specific to the several seconds post stimulus." Because there is evidence that habitual suppression of negative emotion is positively correlated with depression, the long-term effect of expressive suppression needs to be further investigated", said Yuan.


This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation Project (grant number: 31170989, 31371042).

Source: Jiajin Yuan , Quanshan Long, Nanxiang Ding, et al. The efficiency of negative emotion regulation: the comparison between cognitive reappraisal and expression suppression. SCIENCE CHINA: Life Sciences, 2014, 44: 602 - 613.

Link to paper:

Science China Press

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.