August 19, 2014

More Possible Evidence for the Inhibitory Effects of Affect Labeling

The Article Can Be Found Here
In brief, it describes a study that examines the effect of affect labeling on symptom reporting. This topic of affect (or emotion) labeling has had some fantastic research done on it as of late.  Amelia Aldao did a nice write-up of it on her blog:

Overview:  This study exposed students with various levels of habitual (non-medically based) symptom reporting to a modified induction and affect labeling task. Individuals were shown pleasant and unpleasant images (a task shown previously to elevate symptom reporting), then instructed to passively view the images or to apply a forced-choice emotional or content label to them. Post-trial affect ratings and symptom reports were collected, and HRV was measured throughout. Additionally, participants were given a baseline motor inhibition task and self-control questionnaires.

The authors found that both emotional and non-emotional (content) labeling significantly reduced experienced affect (both positive and negative) as well as symptom reports, and that these effects were most pronounced for those with higher levels of habitual symptom reporting. Measures of inhibitory capacity (HRV, motor inhibition, self-report) were not associated with the beneficial effects of labeling, suggesting perhaps that labeling may influence symptoms through processes such as distraction rather than through inhibitory effects (though the authors indicate their task may have limitations).

Discussion Questions:

1.  Many individuals suggest that applying affect (or emotion) labels facilitates regulation by providing us with information on our emotional experiences. Do you agree? If so, how might you explain why content labeling provided a similar benefit in the current study? Might labeling operate through distraction instead, like these authors suggest?  Or through other channels?

2.  What role does emotional vocabulary/intelligence play in the ability to label?  Do those with a larger array of emotion words have inherently better labeling abilities?  What other factors might be at play?

3.  Have you used emotional labeling (e.g. creating an emotion dictionary, including emotions in thought logs) with your clients?  If so, what were the outcomes?  Is this a skill that might be worth incorporating across treatment approaches? Why or why not?

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