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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - An Integrative Approach to the Neurophysiology of Emotion Regulation: The Case of Social Withdrawal


The concept of emotion regulation as a psychological construct has become an issue of significant scientific debate during the last decade (see Cole, Martin, & Dennis, 2004). Recent conceptualizations of emotion regulation have ranged from “changes associated with activated emotions” (Cole et al., 2004. p. 320) to emotion regulation as embedded in emotion or as an integrated component of emotional processes, including the generation, manifestation, and termination of the emotional experience (Campos, Frankel, & Camras, 2004). Because of the integrative nature of the physiological processes involved in the perception, processing, and reaction to emotional stimuli,we agree with Campos et al.'s (2004) working definition of emotion regulation. We view emotion regulation as a chain of neurocognitive processes that modulate the activation, intensity, duration, quality, and expression of emotional experience. At their most basic form, these processes are in charge of the processing of emotional stimuli and the subsequent regulation of arousal (Bradley, 2000).

Although theorists have called for a “process” model of emotion regulation (Campos et al., 2004), empirical validation of this model has been limited. One barrier to progress has been the lack of well-articulated processes involved in emotion regulation and of cohesive theoretical formulations that account for the highly interconnected nature of these processes. One example of this process model can be observed in children's reactions to fear-inducing stimuli. In our laboratory, we perform a brief fear-inducing task during which children are exposed to a realistic rubber snake. The reaction to such stimuli varies significantly.

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