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Poor disgust suppression is associated with increased anxiety in caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease.

  • Author(s): Wells, Jenna L
  • Hua, Alice Y
  • Levenson, Robert W
  • et al.
Abstract

Objectives

Caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease have high rates of mental health problems compared to non-caregiving adults. Emotion regulation may play an important role in preserving caregivers' mental health. We examined the associations between caregivers' emotion regulation measured in several ways (ability, habitual use, and self-ratings) and their mental health symptoms.

Method

Ninety-one caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease participated in a laboratory-based assessment of emotion regulation. In two series of tasks, caregivers were given different instructions (no instruction, suppress) regarding altering their emotional behavioral responses to disgusting films and acoustic startle stimuli. Caregivers' emotional behavior was measured via behavioral coding and caregivers rated "how much emotion" they showed during each task. Anxiety, depression, and habitual use of expressive suppression were measured via questionnaires.

Results

Poor emotion regulation in the disgust suppression condition (i.e., greater emotional behavior) was associated with greater anxiety. Associations were not found for the startle suppression condition, depression, or self-report measures of emotion regulation.

Discussion

Findings suggest that caregivers who are unable to suppress emotional behavior in response to disgusting stimuli may be at greater risk for anxiety. Given high levels of anxiety in caregivers, it may be useful to evaluate interventions that improve ability to downregulate emotional behavior.

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