Seeing Red: Distraction Influences Visual Attention for Anger but not for Other Negative Emotions

Ashleigh V. Rutherford*, Hannah Raila, Andreas Blicher, W. Michael Vanderlind, Jutta Joormann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Emotion regulation is a vital skill that improves psychological well-being and overall functioning. Distraction (the purposeful internal disengagement from an emotional stimulus) and cognitive reappraisal (the process of changing one’s thoughts about an emotional event/stimulus) are two well-established regulation strategies that can effectively decrease negative affect. Less understood, however, are the attention allocation strategies that occur when engaging in these emotion regulation strategies—specifically, do people visually scan emotional information differently when distracting vs. reappraising? In the current study, community participants were randomly assigned to either distract, reappraise, or view naturally while watching four emotional film clips that each elicited a different negative emotional state: anger, fear, sadness, and disgust. Eye tracking was used to record total time spent gazing (“dwell time”) at faces within the emotion-eliciting film clips. An effect of condition was found for anger-eliciting material only: participants in the distraction condition exhibited shorter dwell times compared with reappraisal and natural viewing. Importantly, this effect was moderated by state anxiety, such that it was found at low but not high levels of state anxiety. These results show that emotion regulation strategies differentially affect attention to emotion-eliciting stimuli and points to the role of current affective states in impacting how distraction is used.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1224-1235
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Published online: 15 September 2022.


  • Emotion regulation
  • Eye-tracking
  • Distraction
  • Reapprasial
  • Anger

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