Look Before You Regulate: Differential Perceptual Strategies Underlying Expressive Suppression and Cognitive Reappraisal

Genna M. Bebko, Steven L. Franconeri, Kevin N. Ochsner, Joan Y. Chiao*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Successful emotion regulation is important for maintaining psychological well-being. Although it is known that emotion regulation strategies, such as cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression, may have divergent consequences for emotional responses, the cognitive processes underlying these differences remain unclear. Here we used eye-tracking to investigate the role of attentional deployment in emotion regulation success. We hypothesized that differences in the deployment of attention to emotional areas of complex visual scenes may be a contributing factor to the differential effects of these two strategies on emotional experience. Eye-movements, pupil size, and self-reported negative emotional experience were measured while healthy young adult participants viewed negative IAPS images and regulated their emotional responses using either cognitive reappraisal or expressive suppression. Consistent with prior work, reappraisers reported feeling significantly less negative than suppressers when regulating emotion as compared to a baseline condition. Across both groups, participants looked away from emotional areas during emotion regulation, an effect that was more pronounced for suppressers. Critically, irrespective of emotion regulation strategy, participants who looked toward emotional areas of a complex visual scene were more likely to experience emotion regulation success. Taken together, these results demonstrate that attentional deployment varies across emotion regulation strategies and that successful emotion regulation depends on the extent to which people look toward emotional content in complex visual scenes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)732-742
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Cognitive reappraisal
  • Emotion regulation
  • Expressive suppression
  • Gaze

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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