The Role of Affective Cognitive Processing in our Emotional Wellbeing

Daphne Siozios ’23

Figure 1: Our brain is responsible for managing the adaptive responses that influence our ability to attend to information relevant to our goals.

Affective control is regarded as the ability to regulate emotions while attending to goal-oriented information. In other words, it is the capacity to respond to certain cognitive stimuli while experiencing the feeling of an underlying emotional state. Adolescents tend to undergo greater difficulty eliciting emotional responses due to affective experiences which may be hard to manage. It can be said that this ‘emotional dysregulation’ leads to poor mental health. To thoroughly understand what occurs during dysregulation, it is important to note that regulation refers to the tempering of emotional states through a three stage process of identification, selection, and implementation– processes which aid in the perception of emotion. Therefore, understanding the developmental course of emotion over different stages of regulation in accordance with age is key in determining various mental health benefits.

Dr. Susanne Schweizer of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience is part of a group of researchers studying how cognitive affective processing in the brain correlates to successful emotional regulation. It has previously been found that cognitive control directly fuels successful modification of emotional states. Now, researchers are interested in how the maturation of affective control within one’s adolescent years determines the level of developmental changes in emotional regulation tendencies. In their review, Dr. Schweizer and her team hypothesized affective control to be an important building block of emotional regulation as it develops from early adolescence into adulthood. By analyzing an individual’s capability of disengaging and engaging with affective information through tasks that vary in cognitive processing (decision making vs. inhibition), they found that younger adolescents represented a reduction in interference from affective stimuli.

The researchers analyzed the supposed implications in diminishing mental health disorders resulting from cognitive dysfunction. When the brain is incapable of managing the adaptive responses that influence human ability to attend to relevant goal-oriented information, emotional regulation mechanisms are significantly impaired. Therefore, individuals struggling with mental health disorders such as PTSD or anxiety have far less complex cognitive function. The association between affective cognitive control and emotional regulatory proclivities is reduced, leading to a greater level of emotional dysregulation as early as adolescence. By examining the contributions of affective control in the process of task-oriented decision making, new intervention strategies can be created to further prevent the early stages of emotional dysregulation in young adults, which seem to incoherently lead to mental health symptoms.

Works Cited:

[1] S. Schweizer, I. Gotlib, and S. Blakemore, The role of affective control in emotion regulation during adolescence. Emotion 20, 80-86 (2020). doi: 10.1037/emo0000695[2] Image retrieved from: https://simulatinghealthcare.net/2014/12/17/extra-cognitive-processing-associated-with-simulation-the-cognitive-3rd-space/

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