Adaptive Regulation Strategies in Response to Transgression Rumination: Analysis of Written Responses Following Acceptance or Reappraisal Training

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Lindsey Root Luna and Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet

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Interpersonal offenses carry negative consequences associated with rumination. Two adaptive regulation strategies—reappraisal and acceptance—have demonstrated positive impacts (Wolgast, Lundh, & Viborg, 2011). One study (Witvliet, Knoll, Hinman, & DeYoung, 2010) found that compassion-focused reappraisal stimulated empathy and forgiveness, whereas benefit-focused reappraisal prompted gratitude. Yet, reappraisal may be more difficult to implement than acceptance. In this study, we evaluated the impact of brief reappraisal and acceptance interventions on participants’ written responses. Undergraduates (N=92) identified an interpersonal transgression experienced in the past three years. Participants ruminated and were randomly assigned to either positive reappraisal, acceptance, or control (a second trial of rumination) imagery conditions. Participants then wrote about their imagery experience. One week later, participants re-engaged the imagery conditions. Linguistic analyses showed main effects of trial type: in the initial visit, participants used more forgiving and cost language during the intervention compared to initial rumination (ps < 0.019); a similar pattern occurred during the second visit with cost language (p < 0.001). A main effect of trial occurred during the second visit, with participants using more anxious language during rumination (p = 0.009). A significant trial × condition interaction effect was found for benefit language during both visits (ps < 0.03). Confidence interval comparisons revealed that reappraisal prompted more benefit-finding language than rumination during the intervention; additionally, only reappraisers increased their use of benefit-finding language across trials. Overall, participants used more forgiving language and less negative (cost-focused, anxious) language during the intervention trial, compared to rumination. Only participants in the reappraisal condition had an increase in benefit-focused language during the intervention trial. This suggests that the reappraisal condition was more effective than the acceptance or control conditions for promoting benefit-focused language, which past research has linked with increased gratitude.


This research was supported by a 2013 Jacob E. Nyenhuis Student/Faculty Collaborative Summer Research Grant and a 2013 Carl Frost Center for Social Science Research Grant.

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