Use of linguistic distancing and cognitive reappraisal strategies during emotion regulation in children, adolescents, and young adults

Erik C. Nook, Constanza M. Vidal Bustamante, Hyun Young Cho, Leah H. Somerville

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Regulating one's emotions is an important psychological skill at all ages. Cognitive reappraisal- changing the meaning of a stimulus to alter its emotional impact-is an effective emotion regulation technique. Prior work shows that adults spontaneously reduce their use of present tense verbs and first-person singular pronouns (e.g., I, me, mine) when engaging in cognitive reappraisal, a linguistic shift that is thought to track increased psychological distance. Here, we investigated whether such linguistic distancing during emotion regulation varied across age. Participants aged 10 to 23 (N = 112) spoke aloud their thoughts and feelings while completing a classic cognitive reappraisal task. Participants' verbal responses were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for linguistic distancing, compliance with reappraisal instructions, and use of 8 different reappraisal strategies identified by prior researchers. Results replicated prior work in a developmental sample: Reappraisal decreased negative affect and increased linguistic distancing, and stronger linguistic distancing during reappraisal was associated with more successful emotion regulation. Contrary to hypotheses, we found no age differences in linguistic distancing or reappraisal success, even after excluding trials on which participants did not comply with reappraisal instructions. However, reappraisal strategy use varied across age. Use of the changing circumstances and separating oneself (i.e., distancing) strategies increased across age whereas changing consequences use decreased across age. Additionally, in adolescence, challenging reality use was elevated and problemsolving use was reduced compared to other ages. Results suggest that linguistic distancing during emotion regulation is stable from age 10 to 23 but use of cognitive reappraisal strategies differs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)525-540
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Development
  • Emotion regulation
  • Linguistic distancing
  • Psychological distancing
  • Reappraisal strategies


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