Psycho- and Neurophysiological Mechanisms Underlying the Efficacy of Interpersonal Emotional Regulation

  • Nicola Karen Ngombe

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Although humans are inherently social, emotion regulation (ER) studies often disregard how ER predominantly occurs within social interactions with others. It is currently unclear how the efficacy of inter-personal ER compares to intra-personal regulation, and what psychophysiological mechanisms underlie effective inter-personal ER. There has been behavioural evidence to suggest inter-personal ER might in fact be more effective in decreasing negative emotions than intra-personal ER. To assess whether inter-personal ER also modulates physiological responses, this thesis utilised electrodermal activity measures. A total of 146 participants regulated their emotions using a self-selected strategy (intra-personal ER) or a strategy that was recommended to them (inter-personal ER). Although participants reported greater decreases in negative emotions following intra-personal ER, the reverse pattern emerged for physiological responses: electrodermal measures exhibited greater decreases during inter-personal ER. Subsequently, the neural processes underlying these physiological benefits of inter-personal ER were scrutinised in a second-person fMRI experiment using the same experimental paradigm. Twenty-three dyads consisting of a Regulator recommending ER strategies and a Target implementing these strategies were scanned simultaneously. Although ratings responses suggested no differences in efficacy between inter- and intra-personal ER, during inter-personal ER, both Regulators and Targets exhibited activations within key nodes of the ER network, e.g., the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, as well as socio-cognitive regions, such as the temporal parietal junction. Moreover, Regulators’ neural responses during the choice of an ER strategy resembled brain responses observed in Targets during intra-personal ER, thereby suggesting Regulators engaged in processes of embodiment. Taken together, there is tentative evidence to suggest that inter-personal ER can effectively modulate physiological responses in some cases and it engages a similar neural network to intra-personal ER. Importantly, Regulators appear to engage in embodied processes when regulating another’s emotions. Future studies utilising multi-method and second-person paradigms are needed to discover factors which modulate inter-personal ER.
Date of AwardFeb 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDaniel Joel Shaw (Supervisor) & Klaus Kessler (Supervisor)


  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • emotion regulation
  • electrodermal activity
  • fMRI
  • efficacy
  • second-person paradigms
  • dyad
  • choice
  • regulation strategy

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