Using language to distance oneself from negative stimuli (e.g., by reducing use of the word “I” and present-tense verbs) is associated with effective emotion regulation. Given that internalizing disorders like anxiety and depression are characterized by maladaptive emotion regulation, stronger linguistic distance may be both a diagnostic marker of lower internalizing symptoms and a prognostic indicator of treatment progress. Here, we tested these hypotheses in a large corpus of naturalistic psychotherapeutic exchanges between clients and their therapists (> 1.2 million messages from 6,229 clients). In both exploratory (N=3,729) and validation (N=2,500) datasets, we found that clients’ internalizing symptoms decreased over therapy, that client linguistic distance increased over therapy, and that internalizing symptoms tracked fluctuations in linguistic distance both within- and between-individuals. In other words, clients shifted from discussing themselves and the present moment to discussing other people and timepoints over treatment, and this was related to symptom improvements. However, effect sizes for linguistic results were small, and we failed to find consistent evidence that linguistic distance statistically mediated changes in symptoms over time. Treatment efficacy also was related to therapist linguistic distance in some—but not all—analyses, suggesting that changing therapist language could improve outcomes. Finally, clustering analyses revealed that data-driven groups of clients defined based solely on their linguistic distance differed in both their symptom severity and treatment outcomes. Together, these findings provide replicable evidence that linguistic distance is a marker of internalizing symptom severity and treatment progress in real-world therapeutic interactions.
Individuals modulate their facial emotion expressions in the presence of other people. Does this social tuningreflect changes inemotional experiences or attempts to communicate emotions to others? Here, “target” participants underwent facialel ectromyography (EMG) recording while viewing emotion-inducing images, believing they were either visible or not visible to “observer” participants. In Study 1, when targets believed they were visible, they produced greater EMG activity and were more accurately “read” by observers, but did not report accompanying changesin their emotion experience. In Study 2, simultaneous facial EMG recording and fMRI scanning revealed that social tuning of targets’ facial expressions correlated with activity in brain structures associated with mentalizing. These findings speak to long-standing, competing accounts of emotion expression, and suggest that individuals actively tunetheir facial expressions in social settings to communicate their experiences to others
A growing body of research identifies emotion differentiation—the ability to specifically identify one’s emotions—as a key skill for well-being. High emotion differentiation is associated with healthier and more effective regulation of one’s emotions, and low emotion differentiation has been documented in several forms of psychopathology. However, the lion’s share of this research has focused on adult samples, even though approximately 50% of mental disorders onset before age 18. This review curates what we know about the development of emotion differentiation and its implications for youth mental health. I first review published studies investigating how emotion differentiation develops across childhood and adolescence, and studies testing relations between emotion differentiation and mental health in youth samples. Emerging evidence suggests that emotion differentiation actually falls across childhood and adolescence, a counterintuitive pattern that merits further investigation. Similarly, several studies find relations between emotion differentiation and youth mental health, but some instability in results emerged. I then identify open questions that currently limit our understanding of emotion differentiation, including (i) lack of clarity as to the valid measurement of emotion differentiation, (ii) potential third variables that could explain relations between emotion differentiation and mental-health (e.g., mean negative affect, IQ, personality, and circularity with outcomes), and (iii) lack of clear mechanistic models regarding the development of emotion differentiation and how it facilitates well-being. I conclude with a discussion of future directions that can address open questions and work towards interventions that treat (or even prevent) psychopathology.
Friends and therapists often encourage people in distress to say how they feel (i.e., name their emotions) with the hope that identifying their emotions will help them cope. Although lay and some psychological theories posit that emotion naming should facilitate subsequent emotion regulation, there is little research directly testing this question. Here, we report on two experimental studies that test how naming the emotions evoked by aversive images impacts subsequent regulation of those emotions. In Study 1 (N = 80), participants were randomly assigned into one of four between-subjects conditions in which they either (i) passively observed aversive images, (ii) named the emotions that these images made them feel, (iii) regulated their emotions by reappraising the meaning of images, or (iv) both named and regulated their emotions. Analyses of self-reported negative affect revealed that emotion naming impeded emotion regulation via reappraisal. Participants who named their emotions before reappraising reported feeling worse than those who regulated without naming. Study 2 (N = 60) replicated these findings in a within-participants design, demonstrated that emotion naming also impeded regulation via mindful acceptance, and showed that observed effects were unrelated to a measure of social desirability, thereby mitigating the concern of experimenter demand. Together, these studies show that the impact of emotion naming on emotion regulation opposes common intuitions: Instead of facilitating emotion regulation via reappraisal or acceptance, constructing an instance of a specific emotion category by giving it a name may “crystalize” one’s affective experience and make it more resistant to modification.
Attention biases to emotion are associated with symptoms of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology in children and adolescents. It is unknown whether attention biases to emotion and their associations with different symptoms of psychopathology vary across development from early childhood through young adulthood. We examine this age-related variation in the current study. Participants (N = 190; ages: 4-25) completed survey-based psychopathology symptom measures and a dot-probe task to assess attention bias to happy, sad, and angry relative to neutral faces. We tested whether linear or non-linear (e.g., spline-based models) associations best characterized age-related variation in attention to emotion. We additionally examined whether attention biases were associated with depression, anxiety, and externalizing symptoms and whether these associations varied by age. No age-related differences in attention biases were found for any of the emotional faces. Attention biases were associated with psychopathology symptoms, but only when examining moderation by age. Biased attention to angry faces was associated with greater symptoms of anxiety and depression in adolescents and young adults, but not children. Similarly, biased attention to happy faces was associated with externalizing symptoms in adolescents and young adults, but not in children. In contrast, biased attention to happy faces was associated with greater anxiety symptoms in children, but not in adolescents or young adults. Biased attention toward social threat and reward becomes more strongly coupled with internalizing and externalizing symptoms, respectively, during the transition to adolescence. These findings could inform when interventions such as attention bias modification training may be most effective.
Stressful life events (SLEs) are strongly associated with the emergence of adolescent anxiety and depression, but the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood, especially at the within-person level. We investigated how adolescent social communication (i.e., frequency of calls and texts) following SLEs relates to changes ininternalizingsymptomsin a multi-timescale intensive year-long study (N=30; n=355 monthly observations; n=~5,000 experience-sampling observations). Within-person increases in SLEs were associated with receiving more calls than usual at both monthly-and momentary-levels, and making more calls at the monthly-level. Increased calls were prospectively associated with worsening internalizing symptoms at the monthly-level only, suggesting that SLEs rapidly influences phone communicationpatterns, but these communication changes may have a more protracted, cumulative influence on internalizing symptoms. Finally, increased incoming calls prospectively mediated the association between SLEs and anxiety at the monthly-level.We identify adolescent social communication fluctuations as a potential mechanism conferring risk for stress-related internalizing psychopathology
Exposure to stressful life events is strongly associated with internalizing psychopathology, and identifying factors that reduce vulnerability to stress-related internalizing problems is critical for development of early interventions. Drawing on research from affective science, we tested whether high emotion differentiation—the ability to specifically identify one’s feelings—buffers adolescents from developing internalizing symptoms when exposed to stress. Thirty adolescents completed a laboratory measure of emotion differentiation before an intensive year-long longitudinal study in which exposure to stress and internalizing problems were assessed at both the moment-level (n=4,921 experience sampling assessments) and monthly-level (n=355 monthly assessments). High negative and positive emotion differentiation attenuated moment-level coupling between perceived stress and feelings of depression, and high negative emotion differentiation eliminated monthly-level associations between stressful life events and anxiety symptoms. These results suggest that high emotion differentiation buffers adolescents against anxiety and depression in the face of stress, perhaps by facilitating adaptive emotion regulation.
Although common sense suggests that we are motivated to pursue positive and avoid negative experiences, previous research shows that people regularly seek out negative experiences. In the current study, we characterized this tendency from childhood to young adulthood. Due to the known increases in risky behavior and sensation seeking in adolescence, we hypothesized that adolescents would show an increased engagement with negatively valenced stimuli compared to children and adults. Participants aged 4-25 (N=192) completed a behavioral task assessing motivation to engage with negative, positive, and neutral images. On each trial, participants viewed two small images and selected one to view at a larger size for up to 10s. Trials were organized into three valence conditions: negative versus positive images (matched on arousal), negative versus neutral images, and positive versus neutral images. Although participants chose positive images more than neutral or negative images, participants selected negative images frequently, even when given a positive (28% of trials) or neutral (42% of trials) alternative. Contrary to expectations, the tendency to choose negative images was highest in early childhood and decreased linearly with increasing age, and the tendency to choose positive images increased linearly with age. These results provide insight into how motivation to engage with emotional stimuli varies across age. It is possible that the novelty and rarity of negative experiences drives children to pursue these stimuli. Alternatively, children may find negative images less aversive, which would caution against assuming that these stimuli elicit the same motivational states in individuals of all ages.
The ability to identify and label one’s emotions is associated with effective emotion regulation, rendering emotional awareness important for mental health. We evaluated how emotional awareness was related to psychopathology and whether low emotional awareness was a transdiagnostic mechanism explaining the increase in psychopathology during the transition to adolescence and as a function of childhood trauma—specifically violence exposure. In Study 1, children and adolescents (N=120, aged 7-19 years) reported on emotional awareness and psychopathology. Emotional awareness was negatively associated with psychopathology (pfactor) and worsened across age in females but not males. In Study 2 (N=262, aged 8-16 years), we replicated these findings and demonstrated longitudinally that low emotional awareness mediated increases in p-factor as a function of age in females and violence exposure. These findings indicate that low emotional awareness may be a transdiagnostic mechanism linking adolescent development, sex, and trauma with the emergence of psychopathology.
This study examined two facets of emotion development: emotion word comprehension (knowing the meaning of emotion words such as "anger" or "excitement") and emotion concept abstraction (representing emotions in terms of internal psychological states that generalize across situations). Using a novel emotion vocabulary assessment, we captured how a cross-sectional sample of participants aged 4-25 ( = 196) defined 24 emotions. Smoothing spline regression models suggested that emotion comprehension followed an emergent shape: Knowledge of emotion words increased across childhood and plateaued around age 11. Human coders rated the abstractness of participants' responses, and these ratings also followed an emergent shape but plateaued significantly later than comprehension, around age 18. An automated linguistic analysis of abstractness supported coders' perceptions of increased abstractness across age. Finally, coders assessed the definitional strategies participants used to describe emotions. Young children tended to describe emotions using strategies such as providing example situations that evoked those emotions or by referring to physiological markers of emotional experiences. Whereas use of these concrete strategies decreased with age, the tendency to use more strategies such as providing general definitions that delineated the causes and characteristics of emotions or by providing synonyms of emotion words increased with age. Overall, this work (a) provides a tool for assessing definitions of emotion terms, (b) demonstrates that emotion concept abstraction increases across age, and (c) suggests that adolescence is a period in which emotion words are comprehended but their level of abstraction continues to mature. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
Regulating one's emotions is an important psychological skill at all ages. Cognitive reappraisal-changing the meaning of a stimulus to alter its emotional impact-is an effective emotion regulation technique. Prior work shows that adults spontaneously reduce their use of present tense verbs and first-person singular pronouns (e.g., ) when engaging in cognitive reappraisal, a linguistic shift that is thought to track increased psychological distance. Here, we investigated whether such during emotion regulation varied across age. Participants aged 10 to 23 (N = 112) spoke aloud their thoughts and feelings while completing a classic cognitive reappraisal task. Participants' verbal responses were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for linguistic distancing, compliance with reappraisal instructions, and use of 8 different reappraisal strategies identified by prior researchers. Results replicated prior work in a developmental sample: Reappraisal decreased negative affect and increased linguistic distancing, and stronger linguistic distancing during reappraisal was associated with more successful emotion regulation. Contrary to hypotheses, we found no age differences in linguistic distancing or reappraisal success, even after excluding trials on which participants did not comply with reappraisal instructions. However, reappraisal strategy use varied across age. Use of the and (i.e., ) strategies increased across age whereas use decreased across age. Additionally, in adolescence, use was elevated and use was reduced compared to other ages. Results suggest that linguistic distancing during emotion regulation is stable from age 10 to 23 but use of cognitive reappraisal strategies differs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
In rapidly changing environments, humans and other animals often glean information about the value of objects and behaviors through social learning. For example, in humans, observing others’ behaviors and their consequences enables the transmission of a wide range of information about what stimuli should be avoided and approached, and what behaviors are useful to that end. We survey important developments in our understanding of the behavioral, computational, and neural aspects of social learning of threat and safety. In particular, we discuss the study of social learning through observation, which has enabled comparisons across species. This research shows that observational threat and safety learning draw on mechanisms partially shared with direct (Pavlovian) threat conditioning and extinction learning. Importantly, however, social and asocial learning also differ from each other, for instance in the role that empathic processes play in observational but not asocial learning. We conclude by underscoring the importance of studying social learning across species using behavioral, computational, and neural measures.
Language is known to play an important role in communicating our thoughts, memories, and emotions. In this chapter, we propose that the role of language extends much more deeply to further shape and constitutively create these mental phenomena. Research on emotion has shown that language can powerfully influence experiences and perceptions that are affective or emotional. Research on memory, too, has also shown that language can be used to shape and even create experiences of memory. We organize this work in a framework that is characterized by the many forms and aspects that language may take such as rich narratives, specific emotion words, words that focus on the situation v. words that focus on the body, and even words that convey psychological distance from grammatical tense and pronoun usage. We describe a constructionist theoretical model to understand how language shapes emotion and memory in terms of psychological and neural mechanisms. Our model integrates with recent active inference models of neural processing. Finally, we relate this work to clinical and translational models of therapeutic change.
OBJECTIVE: Self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITBs) are a complex and enduring public health concern. Increasingly, teenagers use digital platforms to communicate about a range of mental health topics. These discussions may provide valuable information that can lead to insights about complex issues like SITBs. However, the field of clinical psychology currently lacks an easy-to-implement toolkit that can quickly gather information about SITBs from online sources. In the present study, we applied topic modeling, a natural language processing technique, to identify SITBs and related themes online, and we validated this approach using human coders. METHOD: We separately used topic modeling software and human coders to identify themes present in text from a popular online Internet support forum for teenagers. We then determined the degree to which results from the software's topic model aligned with themes identified by human coders. RESULTS: We found that topic modeling detected SITBs and related themes in online discussions in a way that accurately distinguishes between relevant and irrelevant human-coded themes. CONCLUSIONS: This approach has the potential to drastically increase our understanding of SITBs and related issues discussed on digital platforms, as well as our ability to identify those at risk for such outcomes.
Emotion concepts are the internally held representations of what defines any given emotion. Contemporary emotion theories posit that emotion concepts occupy a central role in shaping our perceptions and experiences of emotion. However, like other concepts, emotion concepts actively change over the lifecourse. Here we review classic and contemporary ideas, and recent empirical research, that concern how emotion concepts develop from childhood to adulthood. Emerging evidence suggests that emotion concepts change in complex ways across early life development, which has a tangible impact on the emotional experiences of children, adolescents, and adults. Charting emotion concept development in this way holds implications for basic theories of emotion and development as well as more clinical theories focused on helping children and adolescents overcome emotion-regulatory challenges.
People differ in how specifically they separate affective experiences into different emotion types-a skill called emotion differentiation or emotional granularity. Although increased emotion differentiation has been associated with positive mental health outcomes, little is known about its development. Participants ( N = 143) between the ages of 5 and 25 years completed a laboratory measure of negative emotion differentiation in which they rated how much a series of aversive images made them feel angry, disgusted, sad, scared, and upset. Emotion-differentiation scores were computed using intraclass correlations. Emotion differentiation followed a nonlinear developmental trajectory: It fell from childhood to adolescence and rose from adolescence to adulthood. Mediation analyses suggested that an increased tendency to report feeling emotions one at a time explained elevated emotion differentiation in childhood. Importantly, two other mediators (intensity of emotional experiences and scale use) did not explain this developmental trend. Hence, low emotion differentiation in adolescence may arise because adolescents have little experience conceptualizing co-occurring emotions.
Understanding the specific mechanisms that explain why people who have relatives with schizophrenia (i.e., people at familial high risk; FHR) are more likely to develop the disorder is crucial for prevention. We investigated a diathesis-stress model of familial risk by testing whether FHR individuals under-recruit brain regions central to emotion regulation when exposed to social conflict, resulting in worse mood and symptoms following conflict. FHR and non-FHR participants listened to critical, neutral, and praising comments in an fMRI scanner before completing 4 weeks of daily-diary records. Compared to non-FHR individuals, FHR individuals under-recruited the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)-a region strongly implicated in cognitive emotion regulation-following criticism. Furthermore, within FHR participants, weak DLPFC response to criticism in the laboratory task was associated with elevated negative mood and positive symptoms on days with distressing social conflicts in daily-diary assessments. Results extend diathesis-stress models of schizophrenia by clarifying neural and environmental pathways to dysregulation in FHR individuals.
How do people represent their own and others' emotional experiences? Contemporary emotion theories and growing evidence suggest that the conceptual representation of emotion plays a central role in how people understand the emotions both they and other people feel. Although decades of research indicate that adults typically represent emotion concepts as multidimensional, with valence (positive-negative) and arousal (activating-deactivating) as two primary dimensions, little is known about how this bidimensional (or ) representation arises. Here we show that emotion representations develop from a monodimensional focus on valence to a bidimensional focus on both valence and arousal from age 6 to age 25. We investigated potential mechanisms underlying this effect and found that increasing verbal knowledge mediated emotion representation development over and above three other potential mediators: (i) fluid reasoning, (ii) the general ability to represent non-emotional stimuli bidimensionally, and (iii) task-related behaviors (e.g., using extreme ends of rating scales). These results suggest that verbal development facilitates the expansion of emotion concept representations (and potentially emotional experiences) from a "positive or negative" dichotomy in childhood to a multidimensional organization in adulthood.
Effective emotion regulation is critical for mental health and well-being, rendering insight into underlying mechanisms that facilitate this crucial skill invaluable. We combined principles of cognitive linguistics and basic affective science to test whether shifting components of one's language might foster effective emotion regulation. In particular, we explored bidirectional relations between emotion regulation and linguistic signatures of psychological distancing. In Study 1, we assessed whether people spontaneously distance their language (i.e., shift their word use to be less socially and temporally proximate) when regulating emotions. Participants transcribed their thoughts while either passively viewing or actively regulating their emotional responses to negative images. Regulation increased linguistic markers of social and temporal distance, and participants who showed greater linguistic distancing were more successful regulators. Study 2 reversed this relation and investigated whether distancing one's language spontaneously regulated one's emotions. Participants wrote about negative images either using psychologically "close" or "distant" language in physical, social, and temporal domains. All 3 domains of linguistic distancing spontaneously reduced negative affect. Distancing language also "bled" across domains (e.g., temporal distancing spontaneously produced social distancing). This suggests that distancing one's language in 1 domain (e.g., reducing use of present-tense verbs) produces shifts in deep representations of psychological distance that are measurable across domains (e.g., reduced use of the word "I"). Results extend understanding of language-emotion interactions and reveal novel strategies for reducing negative affect. (PsycINFO Database Record