Choosing to Avoid the Positive? Emotion Regulation Strategy Choice in Depression

Yael Millgram*, Shir Mizrahi Lakan, Jutta Joormann, Mor Nahum, Orly Shimony, Maya Tamir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) are more likely than nondepressed individuals to use emotion regulation strategies that decrease pleasant emotions (e.g., distraction from positive stimuli) and increase unpleasant emotions (e.g., negative rumination). If such strategies are actively chosen, these choices may partly reflect weaker motivation for pleasant emotions or stronger motivation for unpleasant emotions. Therefore, this investigation tested, for the first time, whether such strategies are actively chosen, even when alternatives are available. In Study 1, using a behavioral task, MDD participants (N = 38) were more likely than healthy controls (N =39) to choose to use distraction over positive rumination in response to pleasant stimuli, resulting in reductions in pleasant affect. When instructed to choose the strategy that would make them feel better, however, MDD participants did not differ from controls in their strategy choices. In Study 2, using ecological momentary assessments, MDD participants (N =58) were more likely than controls (N= 62) to use distraction from pleasant emotions and to use negative rumination in daily life. This pattern of strategy use was predicted by stronger motivation for unpleasant emotions among MDD participants, compared to controls. Stronger motivation for unpleasant emotions in daily life also predicted increases in unpleasant affect and decreases in pleasant affect. Findings suggest that compared to nondepressed individuals, people with MDD are more likely to choose emotion regulation strategies that decrease pleasant emotions.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 934/15), by the Artery Chair in Personality Studies granted to Maya Tamir, and by 2019 APA Dissertation Research Award granted to Yael Millgram. The authors have no competing interests to disclose.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Psychological Association


  • choice
  • depression
  • distraction
  • emotion regulation
  • rumination


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