Help me if you can: Evaluating the effectiveness of interpersonal compared to intrapersonal emotion regulation in reducing distress

Einat Levy-Gigi, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Objectives Although humans have developed abundant strategies to down regulate their own negative emotions, at times of distress they frequently turn to significant others to seek comfort. In the present study we use a novel performance-based paradigm to evaluate the effectiveness of this interaction. Methods Forty-seven couples in a long-term relationship volunteered to participate in the study. In each couple the two partners were randomly assigned as either target or regulator. The target viewed pictures with negative valance. In response to each picture he/she was then instructed to choose and apply a regulatory strategy (i.e., intrapersonal emotion regulation) or to apply a regulatory strategy chosen by his/her partner, the regulator (i.e., interpersonal emotion regulation). Results We found that the outside perspective of the regulator helped reducing distress more effectively than intrapersonal emotion regulation. Moreover, the cognitive, but not the emotional, empathy of the regulator predicted the added value of interpersonal emotion regulation. Specifically, regulators with a better ability to understand their partners' point of view, selected regulatory strategies that reduced levels of distress more effectively. Limitations While the present study examined possible effects of depression, anxiety and the ability to identify and describe feelings, a larger sample is needed in order to optimally address their potential moderating effect. Conclusions The results illuminate the value of non-professional interventions and the importance of cognitive empathy in reducing distress. The study has significant clinical implications, providing a simple behavioral tool that can be used to decrease and prevent psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-40
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Cognitive and emotional empathy
  • Emotion regulation
  • Non-professional intervention
  • Regulatory strategies
  • Significant others

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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