Emotion Regulation through Distancing

One method for regulating emotion involves using perspective-taking processes to imagine emotional situations from a distance. For instance, you may be able to lessen your emotional response to an upsetting interaction with a friend by imagining how you would feel about it after years have passed (distance in time). We utilize self-report, psychophysiology, and neuroimaging to examine and compare the mechanisms and effectiveness of different forms of distancing. The ultimate goals of this work are to determine the most effective ways to implement distancing for applications like cognitive therapies and to understand how the brain supports these complex perspective-taking processes. Graduate student John Powers is leading this project. John Powers is leading this project.

Understanding Emotion Regulation with Brain Stimulation

This project is an offshoot of the Emotion Regulation Through Distancing project. Our knowledge of how distancing works in the brain is very limited, but recently developed tools for brain stimulation afford powerful new approaches for learning about brain function. Using these tools, we will come to a better understanding of the cognitive processes and neural circuits that support distancing. Eventually, this research may lead to new interventions for improving emotion regulation skills. Graduate student John Powers is leading this project. John Powers is leading this project.


This project investigates the role of emotional regulation and the impact of depression across the lifespan. The ability to regulate one’s emotional responses is critical for maintaining emotional health in the face of adverse events that cumulate over time. We believe that multiple factors, including, age, depression status, neurocognitive functioning, and social support will impact the success of emotion regulation using reappraisal and distraction strategies. We also believe that the combined effect of those variables on strategy use will predict depressive symptoms further into a person’s lifespan. Ultimately, our goal for this project is to gain insights into how maturational changes influence the ability of depressed adults to reduce negative affect.

Investigating theories of disgust

There is increasing recognition that the emotion disgust may have a great deal of influence on mental health, politics, the law, public health, and sociomoral judgment. However, progress in applying scientific insights about disgust to real-world ethical and social issues is often stymied, because the theoretical foundations of disgust are contentious. In collaboration with the Duke Working Group on Disgust, we are examining disgust across the neuraxis -- i.e., at the subjective, physiological, and neural level. Our project employs data-driven analysis to test, refine, and develop theories about disgust and its interaction with behavior and cognition. We are also investigating the interaction of disgust with psychiatric well-being, from the perspective of evolutionary medicine. This project is currently led by graduate student Eleanor Hanna.

Stress and Memory

This project investigates how stress alters memory function under different states of motivation and arousal and, in turn, how stressful memories can be altered to reduce their emotional impact during recollection. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Arizona, we found that stress protects memories against the incorporation of misinformation under conditions of high emotional arousal. In collaboration with Alison Adcock, we are now determining how stress alters spatial memory while participants navigate through a virtual maze under conditions of reward and punishment. We are also investigating whether we can reduce the emotionality of memories using manipulations of emotion regulation and counterfactual thinking (in collaboration with Felipe De Brigard). We hope the results from these experiments will provide new insight into the growing area of memory reconsolidation. The latter studies are led by graduate student Natasha Parikh.