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Cognitive Emotion Regulation Strategies and Symptoms of Eating Disorders, Alcohol Use, Depression, and Anxiety

Amelia Aldao, M.S., M.Phil. & Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph. D. Yale University


In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the relationship between emotion regulation processes and psychopathology (e.g., Kring & Sloan, 2010). Delineating this relationship can have direct implications for prevention programs (e.g., Brackett & Katulak, 2006) as well as treatments that focus on teaching emotion regulation strategies (Beck, 976; Fairburn et al., 1998; Hayes et al., 1999). Adaptive regulation strategies have been associated with low levels of psychopathology (e.g., reappraisal, Gross & John, 2003; problem solving, D'Zurilla et al., 1997), whereas maladaptive strategies have been associated with high levels of psychopathology (e.g., rumination, Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008; suppression, Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000). However, three important questions questions remain: a) Do adaptive and maladaptive regulatory strategies share a single regulatory process? b) Recent evidence suggests that maladaptive strategies might be more strongly associated with psychopathology than adaptive strategies (Aldao et al., 2010). Is this the case? c) Eating and substance disorders have themselves been considered mechanisms to regulate negative affect (e.g., Polivy & Herman, 2002). If so, how does this relate to a transdiagnostic view of emotion regulation strategies? (e.g., Harvey et al., 2004).

2 3 4 .01 .18** 5 .05 .10 6 7 8 9 -.08 -.21** -.05 -.05 -.05 -.03 .13* -.02


We examined the cross-sectional relationship between dispositional emotion regulation strategies and psychopathology. 252 undergraduates (mean age = 18.44; 56 % female; 55% Caucasian; 22% Asian) completed self-report measures.


Our results suggest that: 1) The frequent use of maladaptive strategies might be a more central part of psychopathology than the infrequent use of adaptive strategies. 2) Despite strong associations with depression and anxiety, regulation strategies are still associated with eating symptoms, thus supporting a transdiagnostic view of emotion regulation strategies.

Emotion Regulation Strategies Problem solving: Problem Solving Subscale of COPE (Carver et al., 1989) Reappraisal: Emotion Regulation Questionnaire: Reappraisal (Gross & John, 2003) Rumination: Response Styles Questionnaire: Brooding and Pondering (Treynor et al., 2003) Suppression: White Bear Suppression Inventory (Wegner & Zanakos, 1994)

Psychopathology Symptoms Alcohol: Daily Drinking Questionnaire (Collins, et al.,1985) Anxiety: Mood and Anxiety Symptoms Questionnaire: Anxious Arousal (Watson & Clark, 1991) Depression: Mood and Anxiety Symptoms Questionnaire: Anhedonic Depression (Watson & Clark, 1991) Eating Disorders: Eating Disorders Examination ­ Questionnaire (Fairburn & Beglin, 1994)


Mean (SD) 4.5 (1.05) 2.62 (.53) 2.14 (.73) 2.21 (.79) 2.84 (.95) 2.72 (.65) 1.66 (.59) 1.34 (1.19) 14.28 (8.21)

1. ERQ .27** -.18** Reappraisal 2. PS Total 3. RSQ Brooding 4.RSQ Reflection 5. WBSI 6. MASQ: Depression 7. MASQ: Anxiety 8. EDE Total 9. Drinking Frequency .02

-.32** -.20** -.15* -.25** -.17** .51** .24** .36** .37** .16* .33** .29** 0 .36** .29** .25** .37** .27**

Model fit: chi-square/df = 1.98, TLI = .95, CFI = .97, RMSEA = .06, Holters's Critical N = 294

Future Directions

The findings from this investigation suggest the following future directions 1) What is the relationship between drinking behaviors and emotion regulation strategies in a population of older adults who can drink legally? 2) How do regulatory strategies aimed at modifying expression of emotional behavior relate to the cognitive strategies aimed at modifying internal experience that we examined? And to psychopathology? 3) What role do contextual factors play in the relationship between regulatory strategies and psychopathology?

.54** .55** .39**

Present Investigation

H1: Emotion regulation strategies will be strongly associated with one another and load on a latent factor, thus reflecting a general regulatory process. H2: Maladaptive strategies will show stronger associations with the latent factor of emotion regulation and with psychopathology than adaptive strategies. H3: A latent factor of emotion regulation strategies will be correlated with eating disorders and substance use after accounting for its relationship with depression and anxiety. H1: Strategies were largely correlated with one another. H2: Adaptive strategies showed weaker relationships with psychopathology than the maladaptive strategies. Problem-solving showed no association with eating symptoms. Drinking frequency showed little associations with measures of regulatory strategies and symptoms. H2: Brooding, suppression, and rumination loaded more strongly on the latent factor of emotion regulation than reappraisal. H3: The latent factor of emotion regulation was significantly associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

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