Using Positive Reappraisal to Counter Negative Emotion: Its Neural Mechanisms and Role in Resilience
Kateri McRae, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology,
University of Denver
Human reactions to adversity range from severe incapacitation to resilience to growth. What explains this vast variation in stress adjustment? We offer that humans have the remarkable ability to generate positive emotions such as happiness, hope, gratitude, and love, even in the face of adversity. We argue that it is precisely this ability — the ability to generate positive emotions in negative situations — that allows people not only to recover, but even to grow under adversity. While understanding this ability has crucial theoretical and practical implications, it is not well-understood what mechanisms support it, and how it is linked to resilience. The present proposal is aimed at addressing these questions. We focus on one particularly promising type of emotion regulation: cognitive reappraisal, or, re-evaluating a situation to change its emotional impact. Theoretical considerations and pilot data support the idea people's ability to use reappraisal to increase positive emotion ("positive reappraisal ability," PRA) may play a pivotal role in enhancing resilience. Grounded in this framework, we propose a series of studies aimed at examining 1) the neural bases and psychological processes supporting PRA, 2) the role of PRA in resilience following a stressful life event, and 3) whether training can enhance PRA, and, by extension, resilience. By bringing together two fields of research that have largely been kept apart — research on adversity and positive psychology — and by using the tools of neuroscience and psychology, we will obtain unique insights into how people can harness positive emotions to thrive under adversity.
Kateri McRae received her Ph.D. in Psychology with an emphasis in cognition and neural systems from The University of Arizona, and is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver. Her research focuses on the neural basis of emotion-cognition interactions, emotion regulation, and emotional awareness. She has used behavioral, psychophysiological, functional neuroimaging and personality measures to investigate the bi-directional influences between emotion and cognition. Her work compares the cognitive components and emotional outcomes of different types of emotion regulation (reappraisal, suppression, distraction), the degree to which different types of emotion can be modulated by regulatory processes, and individual and group differences that moderate emotion-cognition interactions. Her work has been published in leading journals including The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Biological Psychiatry, NeuroImage, Social, Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, and Emotion.
Iris Mauss received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University, and is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver. Her research focuses on emotions and emotion regulation, and she utilizes a multi-method approach including experience sampling, behavioral coding, implicit assessment, and measures of autonomic physiological responses. Her work addresses how emotion and emotion regulation influence psychological and physical health, coherence versus dissociation of emotional response systems, the sociocultural context of emotion regulation, and automatic processes in emotion regulation. Her work has been published in leading journals including Emotion, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Psychophysiology. She currently serves on several editorial boards, including Cognition and Emotion, Emotion, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Motivation and Emotion, and Social and Personality Psychology Compass.