Self-regulatory Processes: Relationships between executive function, emotion regulation, the experience of emotions and psychological distress
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Although executive function (EF) and emotion regulation (ER) are both self-regulatory abilities which share common neural substrates and have been linked to common mental health outcomes, few research studies have looked at the direct relationship or considered common underlying factors that may influence this relationship. The current study examined the relationships between ER strategy use, EFs, and their joint and independent effects on the experience of emotions and psychological distress in an undergraduate sample. In the current study we assessed ER, emotional reactivity, the experience of affect and psychological distress using self-report. We measured individuals on a battery of EF tasks. Based on previous research we predicted that increased use of cognitive reappraisal would be related to better inhibition and working memory and healthier psychological functioning. Conversely, we predicted that increased use of expressive suppression would be related to weaker inhibition and working memory and increased reporting of psychological distress. Additionally, we predicted that emotional reactivity would moderate the effects of EF and ER on psychological outcomes. Results indicated that neither inhibition nor working memory were associated with ER strategy use. Conversely, increased use of cognitive reappraisal predicted higher positive emotions, while increased use of expressive suppression predicted higher negative emotions and increased psychological distress. Furthermore, better inhibition was predictive of increased psychological distress. Finally, emotional reactivity added predictive power to negative affect and psychological distress and there was a moderating effect of emotional reactivity on the predictive ability of inhibition on negative affect. We discuss the research implications of these findings and suggest directions for future research in this area.