Using the Stroop task to study emotion regulation.

Citation: Buhle, J., Wager, T. D., & Smith, E. E. (2010). Using the Stroop Task to study emotion regulation. In: Hassin, R. R., Oschner, K. N., Trope, T. (Eds.), Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain.

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The Stroop task is among the most influential experimental paradigms for the study of cognitive control. Recent variants have sought to extend the Stroop task to the study of emotional regulation. To assess these emotional Stroop tasks, it is important to distinguish between those that seek to disrupt performance purely via distraction by emotional stimuli that engage attention, from those that do so by presenting emotional information that specifically conflicts with task-relevant judgments. The emotional stimuli in distraction-based Stroop tasks typically fail to disrupt the performance of healthy adults, and recent work suggests that when inference does occur, it lags behind goal-directed processing, primarily degrading performance on subsequent trials. Although early neuro-imaging research using the emotional distraction Stroop tasks gave rise to the influential hypothesis of distinct emotional and nonemotional processing regions in the anterior cingulate cortex, subsequent research has provided limited support. Other recent evidence suggests that interference in these distraction tasks might reflect a generic transient surprise rather than inherently emotional processes. In contrast to emotional distraction Stroop tasks, studies of emotional conflict have reported robust congruency effects, but it is unclear that the resolution of stimulus incompatibility is relevant to questions of how one controls one's emotions. Future research with emotional distraction Stroop tasks should seek to develop variants that evince more robust effects, whereas research on emotional stimulus incompatibility should leverage previous work with nonemotional conflict Stroop variants to explore topics such as the relationship between output modality and dimensional relevancy, and the distinction between categorization and identification task goals.