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Habitual Reappraisal in Context: Peer Victimization Moderates its Association with Physiological Reactivity to Social Stress

By Kara A. Christensen, Amelia Aldao, Margaret A. Sheridan, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Cognition and Emotion | September 2015


Although the emotion regulation strategy of reappraisal has been associated with adaptive outcomes (e.g., Aldao et al., 2010), there is growing evidence that it may not be adaptive in all contexts (Troy et al., 2013). In the present study, adolescents reported their use of habitual reappraisal and their experiences with peer victimization, a chronic stressor that has significant associations with reduced well-being in this population. We examined how these variables predicted physiological reactivity (vagal withdrawal and changes in pre-ejection period) during a social stressor (i.e., Trier Social Stress Task; Kirschbaum et al., 1993). In line with the findings by Troy et al., (2013), at high levels of victimization, habitual reappraisal positively predicted adaptive physiological reactivity (i.e., greater vagal withdrawal). Conversely, at low levels of victimization, habitual reappraisal negatively predicted maladaptive physiological reactivity (i.e., blunted vagal withdrawal). These findings were specific to parasympathetic reactivity. They suggest that habitual reappraisal may exert different effects on parasympathetic reactivity depending on the presence of stressors, and highlight the importance of examining the role of contextual factors in determining the adaptiveness of ER processes.

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