Emotional Regulation From a Cognitive Psychology Perspective

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Over the past decades, the number of publications on the problem of the regulation of emotions in norm and pathology in the psychological literature has increased many times every year (Anastasi, 2013).

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However, despite the fact that this topic is increasingly becoming the object of systematic research in both general and clinical psychology, the analysis of published data shows that the problematic field of studying the regulation of emotions in health and disease is currently in the process of contradictory formation.

This creates conditions for discussions regarding the content-specific features of emotion regulation and the psychological mechanisms of its functioning. At the same time, the task of creating a psychologically grounded typology of strategies for regulating emotions in norm and pathology (health and disease) is becoming increasingly important in the context of solving preventive, diagnostic, rehabilitation, correctional, and psychotherapeutic tasks when working with adults and children.

It is also necessary to distinguish the concept of emotion regulation from the concept of coping behavior (coping): despite the fact that individual strategies for emotional coping are similar to strategies for regulating emotions, the latter is considered in a broader context that goes beyond stress and difficult life situations. An important component of emotion regulation is the regulation of positive emotions, which is not directly related to the processes of coping with stress.

The ability to regulate emotions, that is, to control emotional reactions, is part of the structure of emotional intelligence – the ability to identify and understand emotions, and also to use this understanding to control own behavior and relationships with people (McBride & Cutting, 2018).

Emotional Regulation Theoretical Background

However, despite the significance of the data obtained, in the psychoanalytic paradigm, insufficient attention has been and is being paid to the ratio of perceived and unconscious parameters of emotion regulation, the systemic relationship of their structural and dynamic aspects. This also refers to the role of sociocultural determinants, in particular, sign-symbolic mediation in the formation of the regulatory aspects of the mental (McBride & Cutting, 2018).

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Today this direction is represented by works in which the problem of the regulation of emotions is designated as an independent line of research (R. Thompson, J. Gross and his school, N. Garnefsky with colleagues, etc.). Over the past 15 years, within the framework of the cognitive approach, a wide range of phenomena and particular patterns of the emotion regulation process have been described, lists of emotion regulation strategies have been provided, and data have been obtained on the comparative effectiveness of the identified regulatory strategies in terms of solving adaptation problems when experiencing negative and positive emotions (Neisser, 2014).

Cognitive Psychology as a Modern Science School

Cognitive psychology is a branch of modern psychological science that studies cognitive processes.

It originates from the works of Wolfgang Köhler (1917) on great apes and Jean Piaget’s observations on the development of children’s intelligence (1927).

It took shape as an independent direction in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Miller, together with Bruner, created the first Center for Cognitive Research at Harvard University in 1960.

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Famous representatives of cognitivism are also Atkinson, Festinger, Kelly, and others.

Cognition is a collective designation of purposeful efforts taken to find, learn, recognize, understand, distinguish, classify, discuss objects, and also process them, that is, change them through mental operations (from concretization to abstraction).

Psychologists, united around this approach, argue that a person is not a machine that blindly and mechanically responds to stimuli (internal factors or events in the external world). On the contrary, much more is available to the human mind: to analyze information about reality, to make comparisons, to make decisions, to solve problems that arise before it every minute (Neisser, 2014).

Thus, cognitivism is based on the interpretation of a person as a being that understands, analyzes, because he/she is in the world of information that must be understood, evaluated, and used.

In other words, cognitive psychology differs from behavioral theories of “stimulus-response” in that it does not imply a one-line direction of causality of behavior, but is guided by the theory of self-regulation and self-organization of the systems under study. Hence, other methodological paradigms of cognitivism stand out, aimed at complex systemic connections in the process of cognition.

Experimental techniques are usually based on the subjects’ solutions of various tasks and chronometric assessment. The exact response time and the speed of reaction to the task are estimated.

A person acts as a kind of computer that perceives external signals in the form of light, sound, temperature and other stimuli through receptors, and then processes this information, analyzes it and creates templates on this basis that allow solving certain problems and tasks (Anastasi, 2013). Cognitive psychology is based on the study of memory, attention, sensations, consciousness, imagination and other thought processes. All of them are divided into cognitive and executive, and each of them consists of many structural components (blocks).

Thanks to cognitive therapy, the following tasks are solved: treating mental disorders or reducing their manifestations and diminishing the risk of recurrence; enhancing the effectiveness of drug therapy; elimination of psychosocial causes or consequences of the disorder; correction of erroneous constructs.

Emotional Regulation in the Cognitive Psychology Standpoint: Dual Process Theory

Later on, the idea that one and the same phenomenon can proceed in two different ways or as a result of two different processes was called the “dual process theory” (Gerber, 2018). In one form or another, this concept has found reflection in social, personal, cognitive, and clinical psychology, and has also been used in decision theory and behavioral economics.

Thoughts and images, according to the scientist, enter consciousness from past experience, giving rise to abstract ideas and analogies with the present (Southam-Gerow, 2016). Such associative knowledge, being reproductive, that is, based on known information, differs from truly logical thinking, which is used by a person in fundamentally new situations and is somewhat similar to referring to a map to overcome obstacles on the ground.

The first, or main one, is the path of careful reflection on the situation, detailed analysis of the available information and conscious argumentation. A person resorts to this method when the level of his competence and motivation is high enough to draw reasonable and correct conclusions (Gerber, 2018). The second, or workaround way, is to inadvertently speculate about the problems and label them as a result of an absence of interest or lack of knowledge.

Cognitive and emotional are in a relationship of dependence such that cognitive components determine and modulate emotional states and processes (Guyrak et al., 2012). Cognitive processes are independent variables, and namely they determine the status of emotional experiences as dependent variables, as cognitively dependent procedural quantities.

Implicit emotional regulation is automatic and requires no effort to monitor, insight, or awareness. Examples of processes of implicit emotional regulation are an adaptation to emotional conflict, habitual emotional regulation (Habitual Emotion Regulation), emotional regulation as a result of affect labeling, emotional regulation mediated by the goals of the activity and personal values (Emotion regulatory goals and evaluation), error-related regulation.

Emotional Regulation in the Cognitive Psychology Standpoint: Procedural Model of Emotion Regulation

In accordance with this, two types of “global” strategies for the regulation of emotions are outlined. First, these are strategies focused on the perception and assessment of the situation by the subject and, thus, actually preceding the onset of an emotional reaction (antecedent-focused). Second, the strategies that are applied after the generation of the emotional response are the so-called “response-focused strategies.” According to the authors, in the first case, the regulation is, in fact, not the emotion itself as such, but rather the “orientation” of the subject to the situation that can cause emotion (Gross, 2015). When the impulse has already been generated, the regulation of the emotion itself and its consequences in the physiological state, behavior and subjective experience is carried out. These two types of “global” strategies can be used both adaptively and maladaptively.

Overall, reassessment is considered the most adaptive strategy for emotion regulation. It has been shown that the use of reevaluation reduces the intensity of the subjective experience of negative emotions, as well as the level of physiological arousal (Gerber, 2018). The developed ability to reappraise, according to published data, is positively correlated with the successful establishment of interpersonal contacts and the level of psychological well-being of a person (Gerber, 2018).

In accordance with the indicated theoretical positions, the researchers propose two main methods for studying these strategies of emotion regulation:

  1. The method of a psychological experiment (more precisely, a quasi-experiment) with the fixation of subjective-evaluative, psychophysiological, and behavioral parameters.
  2. The method of psychological testing using the ERQ (Emotion Regulation Questionnaire) proposed by Gross and

John. The questionnaire includes 10 questions, six of which are aimed at diagnosing the “Cognitive reassessment” strategy, and four – at diagnosing the “Suppress expression” strategy (Gerber, 2018).


However, familiarity with the approach of Gross to the study of emotion regulation raises a number of questions that remain open after reading his works and publications of his colleagues and followers. It is difficult to assume that the proposed “time base” and the sequence of “launching” regulatory strategies can really be so linearly represented as a sequence of successive stages of emotion regulation. It is also difficult to imagine a situation when the subject perceives a stimulus and uses from the class of strategies “choice of a situation,” for example, the strategy of avoidance, he will have no affective reaction at all.


Anastasi, J. (2013). Cognitive psychology: An anthology of theories, applications, and readings. Cognella Academic Publishing.

Gerber, B. (2018). Emotional regulation: Theory and practice. CreatSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Gross, J. (2015). Handbook of emotion regulation. The Guilford Press.

Guyrak, A., Gross, J., & Etkin, A. (2012). Explicit and implicit emotion regulation: A dual-process framework. Cognition and Emotion, 25(3), 400-412.

McBride, D., & Cutting, J. C. (2018). Cognitive psychology: Theory, process, and methodology. SAGE Publications.

Neisser, U. (2014). Cognitive psychology. Routledge.

Southam-Gerow, M. (2016). Emotion regulation in children and adolescents: A practitioner’s guide. The Guilford Press.

Sternberg, R. (2011). Cognitive psychology. Cengage Learning

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PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Emotional Regulation From a Cognitive Psychology Perspective'. 25 January.


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PsychologyWriting. "Emotional Regulation From a Cognitive Psychology Perspective." January 25, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/emotional-regulation-from-a-cognitive-psychology-perspective/.