Fluid cognitive ability is a resource for successful emotion regulation in older and younger adults
Frontiers Media SA -- Frontiers in Psychology
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00609
  1. emotion regulation
  2. cognitive reappraisal
  3. working memory
  4. cognitive ability
  5. SOC-ER
  6. older adults

The Selection, Optimization, and Compensation with Emotion Regulation (SOC-ER) framework suggests that (1) emotion regulation (ER) strategies require resources and that (2) higher levels of relevant resources may increase ER success. In the current experiment, we tested the specific hypothesis that individual differences in one internal class of resources, namely cognitive ability, would contribute to greater success using cognitive reappraisal (CR), a form of ER in which one reinterprets the meaning of emotion-eliciting situations. To test this hypothesis, 60 participants (30 younger and 30 older adults) completed standardized neuropsychological tests that assess fluid and crystallized cognitive ability, as well as a CR task in which participants reinterpreted the meaning of sad pictures in order to alter (increase or decrease) their emotions. In a control condition, they viewed the pictures without trying to change how they felt. Throughout the task, we indexed subjective emotional experience (self-reported ratings of emotional intensity), expressive behavior (corrugator muscle activity), and autonomic physiology (heart rate and electrodermal activity) as measures of emotional responding. Multilevel models were constructed to explain within-subjects variation in emotional responding as a function of ER contrasts comparing increase or decrease conditions with the view control condition and between-subjects variation as a function of cognitive ability and/or age group (older, younger). As predicted, higher fluid cognitive ability—indexed by perceptual reasoning, processing speed, and working memory—was associated with greater success using reappraisal to alter emotional responding. Reappraisal success did not vary as a function of crystallized cognitive ability or age group. Collectively, our results provide support for a key tenet of the SOC-ER framework that higher levels of relevant resources may confer greater success at emotion regulation.