Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Executive functioning and emotion regulation
What role does executive functioning play in emotion regulation?
In this chapter, thesystems running Executive Function and Emotion Regulation will be addressed. An exploration of the relationship between the two systems and their shared mechanisms will also be tackled . Theory and application will follow, entailing the different way an individual may increase, maintain, and control their executive functions, and emotion regulation. Theory of mind and mindfulness will have a focus to demonstrate the integration of executive function and emotion regulation across behavioural, cognitive, and emotional dimensions. Lastly, a brief section of the real world applications and where future research should head has been added .
Executive functioning and emotion regulation
Executive Functioning (EF) arethe cognitive processes, including; planning, working memory, attention, inhibition, self-monitoring, and self-regulation (Goldstein, Naglieri, Princiotta, and Otero, 2014). Broadbent (1958) as referenced by Goldstein et al., (2014), stated that EF is an automatic and controlled process where information is filtered to select information for conscious awareness. Posner and Snyder (1975) as referenced by Goldstein at al., (2014) furthers Broadbent’s work, stating that in order for this selectivity, there must be a level of cognitive control. This is to say, that without control over cognitions, it would be difficult to manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
Emotional Regulation (ER) is said to influence biological, cognitive, developmental, social, organisational, clinical, health, and personality aspects of an individual (Gross, 2015). Theycontinue, illustrating that ER affects stress response, emotions including anger, amusement, and sadness, and general mood. The process model of ER is an information-processing framework, that works in a sequence that follows the general flow of situation selection, situation modifications, attentional deployment, cognitive change and response modulation (Gross, 2015).
Pessoa (2008) writes on the interaction between cognition and emotion being more than just a frontal lobe experience. Nigg, (2017),expresses that EF is now accepted and as a key for self-regulation of emotion. They go on, stating the ER uses cognitive strategies such as reframing and proactive planning that rely on EF. Inzlicht, Bartholow, and Hirsh, (2015) highlight that although there is a correlational relationship between EF and ER, it has yet to be determined it the relationship is directional, dependent, or independent of each other.
Executive functioning systems
Goldstein et al., (2014), describes that the prefrontal cortex is the most responsible for EF. They go on to describe that this area is what primarily carries out the control and management of theory systems, abilities and processes. Bettcher et al., (2015), describes that EF can be seen in the anterior, posterior, cortical and subcortical structures of the brain, meaning that EF is more than just a frontal lobe task. They go on, stating that their study of the brain in healthy adults showed that global atrophy of the brain was a predictor of EF, while having higher white matter volume in the fronto-parietal and corpus callosum and cingulate fractional anisotropy was also a predictor of EF.
Goldstein et al., (2014), illuminates two models of EF; cross temporal model and the integrative model. The cross temporal model is based on the concepts of interference control, planning, and working memory, while the integrative model is based on the maintenance of goals. Zelazo,(2015), defines EF as the self-regulatory skill involved in the conscious goal-directed implementation of thought, emotion and action. Yet, self-regulation is defined as goal directed behaviour, which is driven by standards of thought, feeling and behaviours that individuals implement, mentally represent and monitor with sufficient motivation and the capacity to achieve (Hofmann, Schmeichel, & Baddeley, 2012). Hofmann, (2012), therefore explains that EF and self-regulation are linked closely in that when one is partaking in self-regulation they are also utilising their EF, notably; working memory, behavioural inhibition, and task-switching
Indeed, Nigg (2017), states that like self-regulation, EF is a top-down processing system. This means that it is a deliberate process, that works sequentially through internal mental representations rather than external stimuli (Nigg, 2017). They go on, stating that EF is a large concept, and in order for it to be researched adequately, it needs to subdivided in to smaller areas to study in the brain. Nigg, (2017) proposed the following; working memory, set maintenance and shifting, and inhibition and interference control, which are all performed in the prefrontal cortex.
Now let us look into the brain structures utilised in EF (see Figure 1.).
Knowing this, we are able to produce sound assessments to measure EF across multiple dimensions, ages, and populations (Toplak, West, & Stanovich, 2013). Toplak et al., (2013), states that the typical domains for assessment lay in; anticipation and deployment of attention, impulse control, self-regulation, initiation of activity, working memory, mental flexibility, planning, and shifting. They continue, stating that importance for these tests lay in that EF has been seen to decline with age, and deficits in EF can result in inappropriate social behaviour, problems with decision-making and judgement, and difficulties with initiating, following and shifting plans.
Emotional regulation systems
Gross (2015),describes this as a two process model. Model 'A', is a linear process from situational, attention, appraisal, and then response. Model 'B' added situation selection and modification, then attentional deployment, cognitive change, and finally response modulation in a circular process (Gross, 2015). These two models work together, with model is ‘A’ working as a foundational path to follow, model ‘B’ acts as an additional loop at each stop on ‘A’. This means, when we reach the situational stop on model ‘A’, we address situation selection and modification from model ‘B’ (Gross, 2015). Sheppes, Suri and Gross, (2015), expand on this again, labelling it the extended process model, where ER follows the model ‘A’ and ‘B’, with the addition of a Valuation system. This system is the combination of worldly aspects and perception or input that is the representation of an individual’s current state and desired state through working memory (Sheppes et al., 2015). They continue, expressing that the interaction of the world and perception to produce a valuation create a cycle that is active for extended periods of time, which provides a sound framework for both emotion generation and ER.
Emotions are said to be a sets of cognitive, subjective, physiological and motor changes that are elicited through the conscious and non-conscious determinations of stimuli producing either negative or positive values to contexts and goal pursuits (Etkin, Buchel & Gross, 2015). This is to say that there are both implicit and explicit ER, that work on the bases of ‘good-for-me’ and ‘bad-for-me’, which is to essentially predict the outcome with the highest value to govern emotion generation to meet desired emotional state to reach and maintain goals (Etkin et al., 2015).
The importance of ER can be seen in that it is essential for healthy physical and mental functioning (Grillon, Quispe-Escudero, Mathur, & Ernst, 2015). Grillon et al., (2015) express that when ER functioning low, it can be linked to EF and executive control due to the effort and drain on cognitive resources. So let us look closer at what brain structures are utilised during ER.
Brain structures utilised include (see Table 1):
Inzlicht, Bartholow, and Hirsh, (2015), discusses whether cognitive control is therefore regulated by emotion, or vice versa. They define cognitive control as the mental process to allow behaviour adaptively, dependent on current goals. Inzlicht et al., (2015) highlights that there is a definite link between cognitions and emotions, and therefore their control mechanisms, however, it is yet to found if this link is directional.
Features of the brain utilised both in executive functioning and emotion regulation
|Brain Structure||Executive Function||Emotion Regulation|
|Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPC)||X|
|Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)||X||X|
|Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC)||X|
|Inferior Frontal Gyrus||X|
|Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)||X||X|
|Lateral Prefrontal Cortex (LPFC)||X||X|
|Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC)||X||X|
|Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC)||X|
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As Table 1 demonstrates, there are multiple regions of the brain that correlate between EF and ER, let us discuss what these relationships can mean.
Holley, Ewing, Stiver, and Bloch (2017), produced a study on aggressive behaviours, and examined how both EF and ER worked to accommodate this tendency. They found that deficits in either EF and ER, or both, could see vulnerabilities towards aggressive behaviours. Regarding ER, they expressed that strategies relating to modulating cognitions, behaviours and or physiological arousal, allowed for awareness and acceptance of their emotional response, reducing aggression behaviour (Holley et al., 2017). They continue, examining EF, they found that those who engage in aggressive behaviours had deficits in general EF processes including; selective attention, set-shifting, planning, monitoring, updating working memory, and inhibitory control. Holley et al., (2017) reasoned this due to the fact that EF is thought to be a necessary ability to regulate emotion.
Schmeichel and Tang (2015), explains that a study between EF inhibitory control and ER demonstrated that when individuals are exposed to stimuli, a more positive effect was seen after viewing aversive images under instructions to reappraise the stimuli. They continued, testing EF memory updating and ER, and found that monitoring and updating the contents of the working memory to sustain emotions or trigger emotional responses was also notable.
Although EF has largely been seen as a frontal lobe experience, there is increasing evidence to suggesting temporal, and subcortical activity effectingER (Bettcher et al., 2015; Holley et al., 2017; Schmeichel & Tang, 2015; Pessoa, 2008).
Theory and application
Theory of Mind (ToM),is two separate component parts involved in specific differing mentalising processes such a self-oriented and other-person oriented mental state attribution (Bradford, Jentzch, & Gomez, 2015). They continue , that the differentiation between ‘self’ and ‘other’ lay in EF rather than ER. To test this, Bradford et al., (2015) used false-belief tasks, and smart tasks in order to get participants to sort through ‘other’ and ‘self’ attributions measuring EF. They found that improvement in ToM is seen at the early ages of four, if the child has sound differentiation between ‘self’ and ‘other’, inferring that EF also increases around the age of four. Benson and Sabbagh (2016), state that executive functions, especially Response - Conflict can see the development of Representational Theory of Mind. RTM allows an individual to provide reason behind beliefs and bias concepts. This supports Bradford et al., (2016) research, as their grid experiment between adults showed that EF and ToM were related, and influenced through egocentric interpretation of instructions, resulting in the reliance of biases. Both Benson and Sabbagh (2016), and Bradford et al., (2017) express that there is a relationship between ToM and EF. This relationship has shown that the increase in EF results in the increase of ToM which can result in the increase of social perception, and interpersonal perception of the ‘self’ and ‘other’ (Bradford et al., 2016).
(see Figure 2.) Short, Mazmanian, Oinonen, and Mushquash (2016) express that increases in EF, such as processing speed, prefrontal cortex operations, and self-regulation of behaviour cognition, behaviour, and emotions, can see beneficial effects from mindfulness. They go on, describing that mindfulness involves observing internal sensations, thoughts, and emotions, and external stimuli including; sights, sounds and smells; along with objectively labelling internal and external stimuli, while acting with awareness rather than action mechanically with inattention, non-judging of inner experiences and finally, the non-reactivity to inner experiences. Regarding EF in mindfulness, it was only seen for shifting and inhibition, however, self-regulation was highly associated with mindfulness, which leads to a connection to ER (Short et al., 2016). Tang, Tang, and Posner (2016),states that as the mindfulness and ER neural bases share a relationship, seen in the PFC and ACC, and the link to the limbic system, mindfulness makes a sound strategy to employ of regulatory goals. Indeed, Garland, Farb, Goldin, and Fredrickson, (2015) states that mindfulness is well suited for positive reappraisal in ER. They say that it involved the engagement, adaptation and reengagement of attentional and appraisal mechanisms in the valuation process of ER. Garland et al., (2016) found that positive emotional tuning of the new emerging value produced the individuals to engage in self-reflection leading to more positive values. They also express that mindfulness follows a similar model to ER, where they have a liner model (similar to Model ‘A’), a circular model (similar to Model ‘B’) and a multiple model (similar to the extended model of ER).
Improvement, maintenance, and control
Theories such as mindfulness, up-regulation, down-regulation, and the extended process model are explored in order to determine if an individual can improve, maintain or control their executive functions and emotion regulation (Garland et al., 2015; Gross, 2015; & Gyurak, Goodkind, Kramer, Miller, & Leverson, 2012). Hofmann et al., (2012) expresses that down-regulation can be used for unwanted affect and cravings, where working memory is trained to provide a type of workspace for the regulation of emotion. They go on, explaining that the use of cognitive reappraisal helps with this regulation, allowing for the suppression of unwanted emotions; for example, anger when provoked. Gyurak et al., (2012) state that the ability of modify and monitor one’s behaviour lay in EF and ER. They continue, stating that higher levels of EF is associated with better ER, where verbal fluency positively affected down-regulation of ER. Gyurak at al., (2012) also looked at up-regulation, which important for expression and social functioning. They found that verbal fluency once again supported up-regulation of ER.
EF and ER strategies are also expressed by Lantrip, Isquith, Koven, Welsh, and Roth (2012), which state that reappraisal and expressive suppression are noteworthy. They say that reappraisal is the rethinking of negative emotional stimuli to interpret them in a more positive manner, and expressive suppression is the suppression of emotional facial expressions occurring on a behavioural level. Lantrip et al., (2012) expresses importance to better these functions in order to regulate their emotions and cognitions to enhance their cognitive resources, and remain attentive and well regulate in their daily living. Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, and Scheizer (2010), research showed similar findings in regards to reappraisal and suppression; yet, they also found similar results when strategies like avoidance, acceptance and problem solving in regards to both EF and ER when employed.
When training in these strategies, there can be seen an overall resilience and positive impact on the valuation of emotions (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). They continue, stating that when resilience and positive emotion are experiences, they influence thought processes and behaviour in a more active way. This may be seen when an individual is to undergo a cognitively challenging situation, their ER and EF will allow them to reduce stress through reappraisal, up-regulation, and down-regulation (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007)
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Something to consider
The application of this research can be seen in the versatile strategies expressed. The increase in mindfulness in the past decade, has seen benefits in everyday life through the improvement of ER and EF (Garland et al., 2015; Short et al., 2016; & Tang et al., 2016). The application of these strategies are simple enough for the average person to implement without a clinician’s instruction and monitoring, which adds to its value.
Future research should consider the measurement of emotions and ER to work on clear definitions and markers to observe, and target more specific areas of study (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). Gross (2015), articulates that the underlying mechanism of self-regulation is also in need to future research, as it is still unclear. The research should also aim to find a more definitive relationship between EF and ER. Although there is clear evidence for a correlational relationship, where there are shared mechanisms between brain structures and strategies, there is yet to show either a causal relationship or independence (Inzlicht et al., 2015; & Schmeichel & Tang, 2015).
Let's follow the five step process of the mindfulness model. To begin, you should note down and sensations that you feel internally. This may be thoughts, emotions, or anything physical. Next, you will list any external stimuli, including sounds, smells and sights that catch your attention. It may be helpful for you to label both the internal and externsensations in order to truly bring you awareness to your surroundings and internal state. While doing this, it is important not to judge, and remain non-reactive to these feelings, thoughts, and stimuli. Remain in this state for as long as needed.
EF is the cognitive process that include; planning, working memory, attentions, inhibition, self-monitoring, and self-regulation (Goldstein et al., 2014). ER is responsible for the stress response and emotional response of an individual which can be influenced across dimensions including but not limited to; cognition, biology, social, health, and personality (Gross, 2015). Originally, EF was believed to be only a frontal lobe experience, however, research now shows that it is found to activate parts in the anterior, posterior, cortical and subcortical parts of the brain (Bettcher et al., 2015). The ER brain structures show to work on two networks; the default mode network, and the salience network (Vander Harn et al., 2016). When examining both the EF and ER systems, there can be seen commonalities between the brains structures including the use of the; Amygdala, ACC, PFC, LPFC and OFC (Bettcher et al., 2015; Pessoa, 2008; & Van der Harn et al., 2016). It was expresses that there was a relationship between EF and ER through their utilisation of strategies such as Theory of Mind, mindfulness, and other strategies including; up-regulation, down-regulation, reappraisal and suppression and working memory (Bradford et al., 2015; Gyurak et al., 2012; Hofmann et al., 2012; Lantrip et al., 2012; & Short et al., 2016). Future research should aim to find a definitive relationship between EF and ER, as of right not it is still only known to be correlational (Inzlicht et al., 2015; & Schmeichel & Tang, 2015).
- Affect regulation (Wikipedia)
- Emotion duration (Book chapter, 2015)
- Emotional intelligence development in the transition from adolescence to young adulthood (Book chapter, 2016)
- Emotion and learning (Book chapter, 2017)
- Emotional self-regulation (Wikipedia)
- Executive functions (Wikipedia)
- Interactions between the emotional and executive brain systems (Wikipedia)
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- Emotional foundations of cognitive control (National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Article, 2015)