Why expressive suppression does not pay? Cognitive costs of negative emotion suppression: The mediating role of subjective tense-arousal

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Abstract

The aim of this paper was to contribute to a broader understanding of the cognitive consequences of expressive suppression. Specifically, we examined whether the deteriorating effect of expressive suppression on cognitive functioning is caused by tense arousal enhanced by suppression. Two experiments were performed in order to test this prediction. In both studies we tested the effect of expressive suppression on working memory, as measured with a backwards digit-span task (Study 1, N = 43) and anagram problem-solving task (Study 2, N = 60). In addition, in Study 2 we tested whether expressive suppression degrades memory of the events that emerged during the period of expressive suppression. Both studies were conducted in a similar design: Participants watched a film clip which evoked negative emotions (i.e. disgust in Study 1 and a combination of sadness and anxiety in Study 2) under the instruction to suppress those negative emotions or (in the control condition) to simply watch the film. The results of these experiments lead to three conclusions. First, the results reveal that expressive suppression degrades memory of the events that emerged during the period of expressive suppression and leads to poorer performance on working memory tasks, as measured with a backwards digit-span task and anagram problem-solving task. Second, the results indicate that expressive suppression leads to a significant increase in subjective tense arousal. Third, the results support our prediction that expressive suppression decreases cognitive performance through its effects on subjective tense arousal. The results of the Study 1 show that tense arousal activated during expressive suppression of disgust fully mediates the negative effect of suppression on working memory as measured with a backwards digit-span task. The results of Study 2 reveal that subjective tense arousal elicited while suppressing sadness and anxiety mediates both the effect of suppression on working memory - as measured with the anagram task - and memory of the events that occurred during the period of suppression.

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