Emotional-intensity is a core characteristic of affective events that strongly determines how individuals choose to regulate their emotions. Our conceptual framework suggests that in high emotional-intensity situations, individuals prefer to disengage attention using distraction, which can more effectively block highly potent emotional information, as compared with engagement reappraisal, which is preferred in low emotional-intensity. However, existing supporting evidence remains indirect because prior intensity categorization of emotional stimuli was based on subjective measures that are potentially biased and only represent the endpoint of emotional-intensity processing. Accordingly, this study provides the first direct evidence for the role of online emotional-intensity processing in predicting behavioral regulatory-choices. Utilizing the high temporal resolution of event-related potentials, we evaluated online neural processing of stimuli's emotional-intensity (late positive potential, LPP) prior to regulatory-choices between distraction and reappraisal. Results showed that enhanced neural processing of intensity (enhanced LPP amplitudes) uniquely predicted (above subjective measures of intensity) increased tendency to subsequently choose distraction over reappraisal. Additionally, regulatory-choices led to adaptive consequences, demonstrated in finding that actual implementation of distraction relative to reappraisal-choice resulted in stronger attenuation of LPPs and self-reported arousal.
- Emotion regulation choice
- Late positive potential