Affect labeling: The role of timing and intensity

Einat Levy-Gigi, Simone Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing number of studies have shown that labeling negative feelings can down-regulate distress. The present study aimed to test the effectiveness of affect labeling while manipulating two factors known to influence the emotion regulation process, namely timing, and emotional intensity. In Experiment 1, sixty-three participants completed a performance-based affect labeling paradigm in which they had to choose between two labels that best describe their feeling. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: (1) Simultaneous labeling- the labeling occurs while watching the aversive picture. (2) Subsequent labeling- the labeling occurs immediately after watching the aversive picture. (3) Delayed labeling- the labeling occurs 10 seconds after watching the aversive picture. We found that affect labeling efficiently down-regulated distress independent of the labeling timing. In Experiment 2, seventy-nine participants utilized simultaneous labeling for aversive pictures with low and high intensity. We revealed that while affect labeling reduces distress in high-intensity aversive conditions, it increases distress in low-intensity conditions. The results question the standard advice, which calls to count to 10 before you speak in highly aversive states. In addition, it suggests that affect labeling can be beneficial in high-intensity conditions. However, it should be used with caution in low-intensity conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0279303
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12 December
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Levy-Gigi, Shamay-Tsoory. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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