In everyday life, we automatically regulate negative emotions by exposure to other positive stimuli. This happens without any conscious cognitive engagement; however, the effects of such implicit regulation on mood remain poorly investigated in research. Yet, improving implicit emotional regulation could reduce psychological burden and therefore be clinically relevant for treating psychiatric disorders with strong affective symptomatology.
Nils Kohn and colleagues designed a study in which a negative emotional state was induced by the smell of rotten eggs. A stimulus that is highly aversive and difficult to ignore. This was experimentally paired with emotionally positive or neutral music. After a first session, a simple music training reduced the negative emotional state elicited by the negative odour in a second session 3 weeks later.
In a context of affective rivalry a musical training enhances implicit regulatory processes. The study indicates that humans can learn to ‘ignore’ the negative emotional state induced by disgusting odours, when focussing on familiar positive music. Our findings offer a first base for future studies on implicit emotion regulation in clinical populations.
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