Emotion Down-Regulation Diminishes Cognitive Control: A Neurophysiological Investigation

Nicholas M. Hobson (Lead / Corresponding author), Blair Saunders, Timour Al-Khindi, Michael Inzlicht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Traditional models of cognitive control have explained performance monitoring as a "cold" cognitive process, devoid of emotion. In contrast to this dominant view, a growing body of clinical and experimental research indicates that cognitive control and its neural substrates, in particular the error-related negativity (ERN), are moderated by affective and motivational factors, reflecting the aversive experience of response conflict and errors. To add to this growing line of research, here we use the classic emotion regulation paradigm-a manipulation that promotes the cognitive reappraisal of emotion during task performance-to test the extent to which affective variation in the ERN is subject to emotion reappraisal, and also to explore how emotional regulation of the ERN might influence behavioral performance. In a within-subjects design, 41 university students completed 3 identical rounds of a go/no-go task while electroencephalography was recorded. Reappraisal instructions were manipulated so that participants either down-regulated or up-regulated emotional involvement, or completed the task normally, without engaging any reappraisal strategy (control). Results showed attenuated ERN amplitudes when participants down-regulated their emotional experience. In addition, a mediation analysis revealed that the association between reappraisal style and attenuated ERN was mediated by changes in reported emotion ratings. An indirect effects model also revealed that down-regulation predicted sensitivity of error-monitoring processes (difference ERN), which, in turn, predicted poorer task performance. Taken together, these results suggest that the ERN appears to have a strong affective component that is associated with indices of cognitive control and behavioral monitoring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1014-1026
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Early online date6 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Cognition
  • Down-regulation
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Task performance and analysis
  • Young adult
  • Journal article


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