Using Trait Anxiety Level to Predict Emotion Regulation during an Anxiety-Inducing Speech Task

Open Access
Hanley, Kaitlin Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
February 05, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Jose Angel Soto, Thesis Advisor
  • emotion regulation
  • trait anxiety
  • physiology
  • reappraisal
  • suppression
  • avoidance
  • venting
Despite the recent increase in emotion regulation research, the way that emotion regulation functions in relation to specific emotions or remains relatively unelaborated. The present study focuses on how trait anxiety levels influence choice of emotion regulation strategies and how these variables interact to impact physiological responses to anxiety. Given previous findings linking high anxiety with general tendencies to avoid processing emotions, suppress the behavioral response, and uncontrollably vent emotions, we expected to find that individuals with high trait anxiety would use these strategies more than reappraisal to handle in-the-moment anxiety. To test these hypotheses, we recruited 101 participants to complete a laboratory procedure that utilized a speech task to induce anxiety. After anxiety induction but before giving the speech, participants completed the Emotion Regulation Task (ERT), which instructs individuals to choose a topic to write about to deal with their anxiety. Each topic represents one of four emotion regulation strategies: suppression, reappraisal, avoidance, and venting. Throughout the procedure, physiological indicators of sympathetic arousal were collected. Data analyses indicated that most participants chose avoidance regardless of trait anxiety level, but that high trait anxiety significantly predicted choice of suppression over avoidance. In addition, a non-significant trend emerged suggesting that choice of emotion regulation strategy may moderate the relationship between trait anxiety level and physiological arousal. These findings demonstrate that individual differences, such as trait anxiety level, impact the types of emotion regulation strategies that people use, and further influence changes in sympathetic arousal in an anxiety-provoking situation.