Regulating emotion is a critical developmental achievement, given the impact of emotion on an array of psychological and physical processes, including attention, perception, memory, physiological arousal, stress responses, and developmental outcomes. The central aims of the proposal are 1) to establish the effectiveness of memory narratives in the lasting down- regulation of anger and sadness- both subjective and physiologically assessed, as compared to other established forms of emotion regulation;2) to identify the mechanisms by which memory narratives serve to reduce anger and sadness in response to experiences;3) to demonstrate when, across middle childhood and early adolescence, memory narratives can first serve to down-regulate anger and sadness;and 4) whether, children and younger adolescents can effectively use memory narratives to reduce anger and sadness when they are assisted in narrative construction by an adult. The proposed studies examine anger and sadness both during the construction of narratives and during re-exposure to the emotional events on subsequent occasions, in order to test whether memory narratives help to down-regulate anger and sadness in lasting ways. Four studies employ experimental and cross-sectional designs to answer these questions. A first study compares the construction of memory narratives among adults to other, well-documented strategies for emotion regulation: re-appraisal and distraction. A second study contrasts different types of memory narrative elicitations to identify the critical features of narrative for emotion regulation among adults. A third study identifies the age at which narratives effectively serve to regulate anger and sadness for children and adolescents. The fourth study assesses whether children and younger adolescents can use narratives effectively to down-regulate emotion at earlier ages when they are provided with adult assistance to construct the narratives. All studies assess emotional reactivity and regulation via self-report and physiological measures (Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and Skin Conductance Level). The findings of the proposed studies will provide guidance for using memory narrative construction in the service of emotion regulation among normative samples, by illuminating the mechanisms by which memory narrative construction can serve to regulate emotions, and by outlining when, developmentally, memory narratives come to serve emotion regulation with and without expert adult scaffolding. The findings also provide comparisons of memory narrative construction with known strategies for emotion regulation, such as reappraisal and distraction.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed project will examine whether, when, and how the construction of memory narratives about anger and sadness experiences helps to reduce anger and sadness about those events. Effective emotion regulation is fundamental to mental health;understanding the ways people can engage in effective regulation of emotions is important for developing interventions to improve emotion regulation in individuals. Memory narratives represent an ecologically valid strategy for reducing negative emotion, and the proposed project would demonstrate their utility and provide information about the age at which children and adolescents are able to use memory narratives, and what features of narratives are crucial for regulating emotions.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Utah
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Salt Lake City
United States
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