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The way individuals interpret their worlds is influenced by emotion and its regulation. Indeed, negative affect typically increases negative interpretations of ambiguous stimuli and may have a role in dysfunctional psychosocial function. Yet, it is not currently known whether explicit and implicit emotion regulation can counteract this effect. To address this question, undergraduates (N = 103) used cognitive reappraisal under angry and control mood states to disambiguate sentences by selecting either a neutral, positive, or negative word. While explicit cognitive reappraisal decreased negative affect, it had no effect on interpretation of ambiguity. Still, reported use of reappraisal predicted decreased negative and increased positive interpretations. Further, dispositional characteristics such as anger and optimism were key factors in how participants interpreted ambiguity. These findings suggest that regulating emotion may not be sufficient for influencing cognitive interpretations. Yet, individuals who are optimistic and are able to successfully regulate their emotions are less prone to negative interpretations even under angry mood states. This has implications for skill development in individuals with emotional disorders.
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Gordon, Nakia S.; Chesney, Samantha A.; and Reiter, Katherine, "Thinking Positively: Optimism and Emotion Regulation Predict Interpretation of Ambiguous Information" (2016). Psychology Faculty Research and Publications. 233.