Improving mood through acceptance of emotional experience



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Depression research demonstrates that self-focused processing, such as rumination, causes and maintains depressive disorders (Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Kuhl & Helle, 1986; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987), while emotional processing literature shows beneficial effects to self-focus under some circumstances (Rachman, 1980; Foa & Kozak, 1986; Pennebaker, 1989). Therefore, it seems that self-focus is not inherently detrimental; rather, the way a person self-focuses could differentiate between unhealthy rumination and healthy emotional processing. Rude, Maestas, and Neff (2006) demonstrated that when the wording of a well-known rumination measure was altered to reduce judgment, the measure no longer correlated with depression. Mindfulness approaches that emphasize a non-judgmental acceptance of one's experience have produced beneficial outcomes (Baer, 2003), thus corroborating this finding. This dissertation investigated the role of acceptance in emotional recovery from a distressing event. It was hypothesized that encouraging participants to process emotions in an accepting manner would help them recover from a dysphoric mood more quickly than participants not given acceptance instructions or those given instructions to evaluate and change their emotions. Recovery was defined as return to baseline on measures of heart rate, skin conductance, skin temperature, self-reported positive and negative affect, and rumination (cognitive priming). In addition, the study investigated whether differences in the effects of emotional processing condition would be greatest for participants with low trait acceptance of emotions or high trait rumination. As predicted, Acceptance participants reported less negative affect than Control participants at the end of the study. There were no significant differences on negative affect between Acceptance and Evaluation conditions, however. Hypothesized differences in recovery as measured by heart rate, skin conductance, skin temperature, positive affect, and rumination were not found. As predicted, trait rumination and emotional acceptance interacted with processing condition for negative mood and heart rate: Acceptance and Evaluation conditions reduced negative mood more than the Control group for participants low in trait Emotional Acceptance, and the Acceptance condition reduced heart rate for high ruminators more than the Control group. Interestingly, and contrary to prediction, Acceptance participants showed evidence of greater priming of failure-related words than the other two groups on the reaction time measure.