Expressive inhibition in response to stress: Implications for emotional processing following trauma


Expressive inhibition - the willful restriction of expressed emotion - is documented in individuals reporting trauma-related distress, but its impact on global affective functioning remains unclear. Theoretical models propose that chronic activation of negative emotion and deliberate restriction of affect operate synergistically to produce trauma-related emotional deficits. The current project examined the impact of these factors on subjective experience and physiological activation following exposure to an analog trauma. University students (N=192; Mage=20, 57% female, 42% White/Non-Hispanic) viewed a graphic film depicting scenes of a televised suicide. Participants then viewed either a sadness- or humor-eliciting film under instructions to inhibit [nsadness=45, nhumor=52] or naturally express emotion [nsadness=48, nhumor=47]. Expressive inhibition was associated with restricted amusement specifically among participants viewing the humor film. Inhibition also produced attenuated sympathetic and parasympathetic recovery, irrespective of film assignment. Evidence of disruptions in emotional processing supports models identifying inhibition as a possible mechanism in post-trauma affect dysregulation.

Publication Title

Journal of Anxiety Disorders