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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2011  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 32-38  Table of Contents     

Individual differences in hemispheric preference and emotion regulation difficulties


Department of Psychology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

Date of Web Publication12-Jul-2012

Correspondence Address:
Rakesh Pandey
Department of Psychology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi - 221 005, Uttar Pradesh
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-6748.98412

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   Abstract 

Background: Hemisphericity or individual difference in the preference to use the left or the right hemispheric mode of information processing has been associated with various emotion-related differences. For example, the right hemisphericity has been linked with inhibition of emotional expression, feeling of tension, greater impulsivity etc. These observations suggest that right hemisphericity may be associated with greater difficulties in regulating emotions. However, direct empirical tests of such theoretical proposition are very thin. Aim: In view of this, the present study aims to investigate how and to what extent individual difference in hemispheric preference relate to emotion regulation. Materials and Methods: Thirty-two right-handed male subjects in the age range 18 to 20 years were assessed on self-report measures of hemispheric preference and emotion regulation difficulties. The correlation between dimensions of hemispheric preference and difficulties in regulating emotions was computed. A series of stepwise multiple regression analyses were also done to explore the relative significance of various dimensions of hemispheric preference in predicting emotion regulation difficulties. Results: The findings revealed that in general a preference for the right hemispheric mode of information processing was associated with greater emotion regulation difficulties. The correlation analysis indicated that while impulse control difficulties and difficulties in engaging goal directed behavior was associated with preference for almost all the right hemispheric mode of information processing, the nonacceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation was related to preference for only global/synthetic (a right hemispheric) mode of information processing. Similarly, the lack of emotional clarity facet of emotion regulation difficulties correlated significantly with a preference for the emotional mode of information processing (again a right hemispheric mode). The results of stepwise multiple regression analyses, however, indicated that "nonacceptance of emotional responses' and 'limited access to emotion regulation strategies" facets of emotion regulation difficulties were best predicted by a preference for the global/synthetic mode of information processing. While others like difficulties engaging in goal-directed behaviour, impulse control difficulties, and lack of emotional clarity were best predicted by a preference for visuo-spatial rather than the verbal mode of information processing. Conclusion: Overall, the findings imply that greater preference for right hemispheric mode of information processing as compared to the left is associated with greater difficulties in regulating emotions.

Keywords: Emotion regulation difficulties, hemisphericity, left and right hemispheric preference


How to cite this article:
Gupta G, Dubey A, Saxena P, Pandey R. Individual differences in hemispheric preference and emotion regulation difficulties. Ind Psychiatry J 2011;20:32-8

How to cite this URL:
Gupta G, Dubey A, Saxena P, Pandey R. Individual differences in hemispheric preference and emotion regulation difficulties. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2011 [cited 2019 Jun 25];20:32-8. Available from: http://www.industrialpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2011/20/1/32/98412

The two cerebral hemispheres, though, appear to be symmetrical, it has now been well documented that they differ from each other both structurally as well as functionally. This structural and functional difference between the two hemispheres of the human brain is often referred to as hemispheric asymmetry. The functional hemispheric asymmetry is referred by several terms such as hemispheric or cerebral dominance, and cerebral lateralization of function or simply cerebral laterality and is defined by relative superiority of one hemisphere over the other in processing of certain information. [1] This relative dominance of cerebral hemispheres in processing information implies that both hemispheres can process usually all types of information but one does it more efficiently than the other and that too in primarily different manners. Researchers have demonstrated that the left hemisphere operates in a linear, sequential manner with logical, analytical, and propositional thought. On the other hand, the right hemisphere operates in a nonlinear, simultaneous fashion and deals with nonverbal information as well as dreams and fantasy. [2],[3],[4] The left hemisphere appears to be specialized for language, whereas the right hemisphere is specialized for visuospatial and appositional thought.

These observations led some researchers to explore whether such hemispheric differences exist as a trait, that is, do certain individuals have a disposition to prefer one hemispheric mode of information processing over the other? Researchers have noted that certain individuals prefer the right hemispheric mode of holistic information processing resulting in a "right brain"-oriented personality style [5],[6] while in others the left hemisphere traits are more ascendant, producing a contrasting "left brain"-oriented style. [4],[7] This type of individual differences was labeled as hemisphericity and was assumed to specify which side of the brain is involuntarily more ascendant in terms of the production of an individual's habitual mood, personality, and characteristic thinking and the behavioral style. To put in other words, brain hemisphericity is the tendency of an individual to process information through the left or the right hemisphere or in combination. [3],[4],[8] Accordingly, people are categorized as left or right hemisphere oriented persons. The left hemispheric dominants are highly analytic, verbal, linear, and logical learners, whereas right-hemispheric dominants are highly global, visual, relational, and intuitive learners.

Hemisphericity or individual differences in the preference for the left or right hemispheric mode of information processing has been studied in relation to a number of psychological constructs. For example, studies have revealed that brain hemisphericity greatly influences the individual's learning style and various kinds of intellectual and personality characteristics. [3],[9],[10] Similarly, several studies have reported that brain hemisphericity is associated with different occupations and academic majors. [3],[11] Academic subjects such as arts, humanities, and architecture are believed by several researchers to require a more global, synthetic, and spatial orientation that make them more suitable for right-brain dominant students, whereas other subjects such as science, engineering, and language emphasize logic and verbal analysis, which make them a better fit for left-brain dominant students. [12],[13],[14] Lavach [15] examined the brain hemisphericity of students with different majors. He reported that humanities students showed preference for the right-hemispheric dominance. Natural science students demonstrated a left-hemispheric mode, while social science majors showed preference for left-hemispheric dominance.

Researches examining the relationship of hemisphericity and emotions reported that right hemisphericity correlates with the tendency to express emotions and left hemisphericity with the tendency to inhibit emotions. [16] Similarly, Vingiano [17] observed that left hemispheric persons are characterized by the greater control of their impulses, less experience of generalized tension, more imaginative, and viewing themselves in a positive light. It was also noted in this study that right hemispheric individuals possess less control over their impulses were found to be tensed, suspicious, and viewing themselves in a negative light. There are also some studies, which suggest that the sticking to one hemisphere may lead to affective pathology. For example, Pettigrew and Miller [18] have reported that due to inability or difficulty in switching from one hemisphere to other certain people become stuck with either left or right hemisphere and as a result develop affective pathology related to the given hemisphere (mania with sticking to left and depression with the right hemisphere). Such observation suggest that left-hemispheric individuals would be more capable as compared to their right hemispheric counterparts in regulating their emotions and would be relatively less prone to experience negative emotions. In other words, it can be said that a greater preference for right hemisphere would be associated with emotion regulation difficulties, whereas the preference for left-hemisphere would be associated with fewer difficulties in regulating emotions.

Emotion regulation has been conceptualized in different ways in the existing literature. For example, some researchers have viewed emotion regulation as control of emotional experience and expression, [19] whereas others are of the view that emotional control cannot be equated with emotional regulation. [20] For example, some researchers have conceptualized that deficiencies in the ability to experience and differentiate full range of emotions may have similar maladaptive consequences as the difficulty in modulating negative emotional experiences. [20],[21] Similarly, another group of researchers emphasize the importance of accepting and valuing emotional responses in the conceptualization of emotion regulation. [20],[22] Consistent with these approaches, researchers have suggested that the tendency to experience negative emotions in response to one's own emotional reactions (indicative of a lack of emotional acceptance) is maladaptive, and associated with greater difficulties in emotion regulation. [20],[23],[24] Recognizing these variations in defining emotion regulation several researchers have conceptualized emotion regulation as a multidimensional construct encompassing not only the control dimension but also the understanding of emotions and more. [20]

This study adopts a similar multidimensional conceptual model of emotion regulation as proposed by Gratz and Roemer. [25] They have conceptualized emotion regulation encompassing the following four dimensions: (a) awareness and understanding of emotions, (b) acceptance of emotions, (c) ability to control impulsive behaviors and behave in accordance with desired goals when experiencing negative emotions, (d) ability to use situationally appropriate emotion regulation strategies flexibly to modulate emotional responses as desired in order to meet individual goals and situational demands.

The aforesaid studies, though, indicate the possibility that right hemispheric individuals may be prone to encounter difficulties in regulating their emotions, the direct empirical test of such theoretical propositions is scant. In view of this gap in the existing literature this study makes an attempt to examine how and to what extent the individual differences in hemispheric preference is associated with difficulties in regulating emotions. Based on available indirect empirical evidences we speculate that the preference for the right hemispheric mode of information processing would be associated with emotion regulation difficulties.


   Materials and Methods Top


Sample

This study was conducted on 32 incidentally sampled undergraduate male students in the age range of 18 to 20 years. All the participants belonged to middle-class socio economic stratum. None of the participants reported any present or prior history of medical or psychiatric illness in an interview conducted before the administration of the tools for this study.

Tools

Difficulties in emotion regulation scale developed by Gratz and Roemer [25] was used to assess the emotion regulation difficulties. It is a 36 items scale that assesses individual's difficulties in regulating emotions across six domains: (a) nonacceptance of negative emotions; (b) difficulties in engaging in goal-directed behaviours when experiencing negative emotions; (c) difficulties in controlling impulsive behavior; (d) lack of emotional awareness; (e) limited access to emotion regulation strategies; (f) lack of emotional clarity. Participants are asked to indicate how often the items apply to them, with responses ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 is almost never (0-10%); 2 is sometimes (11-35%); 3 is about half the time (36-65%); 4 is most of the time (66-90%); and 5 is almost always (91-100%). The negatively keyed items are reverse scored and, thus, the higher score indicates greater difficulties in regulating emotions.

Hemispheric preference scale [26] was used to assess the individual differences in the hemispheric preference. This is a factor analytically developed scale that measures four dimensions of hemisphericity, namely, verbal versus visuospatial, emotional versus rational, global-synthetic versus analytic, intuitive/imaginative versus fact oriented. The reliability and validity of this scale has been found to be satisfactory. Each item of this scale consists of a pair of activities, one related to left and the other to the right hemispheric mode of cognition. Participants are required to choose one of them and rate their preference for the chosen activity on a three-point scale. The final scoring is done on a six-point scale ranging from 1 to 6 (1-3 indicates the degree of preference for left hemispheric activity and 4-6 represents the degree of preference for the right hemispheric activity). Higher score indicates a preference for right hemisphere and a lower score for the left hemisphere.

Procedure

The aforesaid psychometric measures were administered individually. Before actual administration of the said scales, instructions related to each scale were clearly explained to each participant and their queries (if any) were answered. Before taking back to the questionnaires, it was ensured that the respondents have responded to each and every items of the questionnaire. If any item was found to be unresponded then it was immediately brought to the notice of respondents with the request to complete them. The complete questionnaires were scored as per the standard scoring procedure of respective scale/questionnaires.


   Results Top


To ascertain the relationship between hemispheric preference and various dimensions of emotion regulation difficulties Pearson's correlation coefficients were computed. The obtained results have been presented in [Table 1].
Table 1: Correlation between various dimensions of hemispheric preference and emotion regulation difficulties

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It is evident from [Table 1] that various dimensions of hemispheric preference as well as the total score correlated positively with most of the dimensions of difficulties in emotion regulation scale. However, some dimensions of emotion regulation difficulties correlated significantly with almost all the dimensions of hemispheric preference, the others correlated with a few or none. For example, lack of emotional awareness was not found to be significantly correlated with any of the dimensions of hemispheric preference, the impulse control difficulties and total score on emotion regulation difficulties correlated significantly and positively with all except intuitive/imaginative versus fact oriented facet of hemispheric preference. Similarly, the difficulties in engaging goal-directed behavior facet of emotion regulation difficulties correlated significantly with all except emotional versus rational dimensions of hemispheric preference. The two facets of emotion regulation difficulties, non-acceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation strategies, correlated positively and significantly with only global/synthetic versus analytic dimension of hemispheric preference whereas the lack of emotional clarity facet of emotion regulation difficulties correlated positively only with emotional versus rational dimensions of hemispheric preference.

Since, higher scores on measure of hemispheric preference reflects a preference for right hemispheric mode of information processing, the observed pattern of correlation indicates that individuals with right hemispheric preference are likely to face more difficulties in regulating their emotions. Further, the present findings suggest that while certain types of emotion regulation difficulties, namely, difficulties in engaging goal-directed behavior and impulse control difficulties are associated with almost all types of right hemispheric mode of information processing, the others are related with specific types of right hemispheric mode of information processing. For example, the non-acceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation strategies facets of emotion regulation difficulties was related with preference for global/synthetic (a right hemispheric) mode of information processing, the lack of emotional clarity facet of emotion regulation difficulties correlated with a preference for emotional mode of information processing (again a right hemispheric mode).

To examine the relative significance of various dimensions of hemispheric preference in predicting various types of difficulties in regulating emotions, a set of stepwise multiple regression analyses were conducted using dimensions of hemispheric preference as predictor and various dimensions of difficulties in regulating one's emotions as a criterion or dependent variable. The obtained results have been displayed in [Table 2].
Table 2: Results of stepwise multiple regression analysis using various dimensions of emotion regulation difficulties as criterion and dimensions of hemispheric preference as predictors

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It is evident from [Table 2] that the right hemispheric global synthetic mode of information processing emerged as best predictor of nonacceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation strategies facets of emotion regulation difficulties and accounted for 13.6% and 16.8% respectively in the total variance. On the other hand, in predicting difficulties engaging in goal- directed behavior and impulse control difficulties facets of emotion regulation difficulties, the visuospatial mode of information processing (a preference for right hemispheric mode) was found to be the best predictor which accounted 21.8% and 17.5% to the total variance of each of them respectively. The lack of emotional clarity facet of emotion regulation difficulties was best predicted by a preference for emotional mode of information processing followed by the visuospatial mode of information processing (both are the right hemispheric mode) and each of them explained 14.1% and 18.9% of the total variance of this dimension of emotion regulation difficulties. The said interpretation of results is based on the fact that all the beta weights associated with various predictors are positive which suggest that higher score on hemispheric preference (an indicator of right hemispheric preference) is associated with greater emotion regulation difficulties.

Overall, the findings of stepwise multiple regression analyses suggest that the right hemispheric preference, especially the preference for global/synthetic and visuospatial mode, is the best predictor of various types of emotion regulation difficulties.


   Discussion Top


The findings of this study make a significant contribution to the existing literature on hemisphericity by empirically demonstrating that in general a preference for the right hemispheric mode of information processing is associated with greater emotion regulation difficulties. As far as the specific right hemispheric modes of information processing and its association with specific types of emotion regulation difficulties is concerned, a differential pattern of findings has been observed. It is evident that while certain types of emotion regulation difficulties are associated with almost all types of right hemispheric mode of information processing, the others are related with specific types of right hemispheric mode of information processing. While impulse control difficulties and difficulties in engaging goal directed behavior is associated with preference for almost all the right hemispheric mode of information processing strategies, the nonacceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation strategies facets of emotion regulation difficulties were related with preference for only global/synthetic (a right hemispheric) mode of information processing. Similarly, the lack of emotional clarity facet of emotion regulation difficulties correlates with a preference for emotional mode of information processing (again a right hemispheric mode).

Correlation findings suggest that greater preference for the most of the right hemispheric mode of information processing is associated with greater emotion regulation difficulties. However, the findings of stepwise multiple regression analysis revealed that out of the four right hemispheric modes, the preference for global/synthetic and visuospatial mode of information processing could best predict almost all types of emotion regulation difficulties. While nonacceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation strategies were best predicted by a preference for the global/synthetic mode of information processing, difficulties engaging in goal-directed behavior, impulse control difficulties, and lack of emotional clarity were best predicted by a preference for visuospatial rather than verbal mode of information processing.

Overall, the findings of this study imply that if an individual is right hemispheric, that is, he/she shows greater preference for the right hemispheric mode of information processing, then he/she is likely to experience greater difficulties in regulating their emotions particularly the negative and upsetting ones. This observation of this study is supported by earlier indirect empirical evidences that demonstrate that right hemispheric preference is associated with inhibited emotional expression (a factor that may enhance emotion regulation difficulties), less control over one's impulses, and a tendency to remain tensed, suspicious, and view oneself in a negative light. [16],[17]

This observation that greater preference for the right hemispheric mode of information processing is associated with greater emotion regulation difficulties is also congruent with the hemispheric theory of emotion and motivation. It is well established that the right hemisphere is associated with negative emotional experience [27],[28] and avoidance tendency [29],[30],[31],[32] and thus, a greater preference for right hemisphere is likely to enhance negativity and an avoidance focused approach in dealing with negative emotions. These factors may reduce the likelihood of approaching and analyzing the situations that arouse negative emotions and/or the ability to link the negative emotional experiences with their context and as a result may impair the ability to regulate emotions. In fact, affective disorders or deficits assumed to be a result of disorders of emotion regulation such as depression and alexithymia has been found to be associated with enhanced right hemispheric asymmetry or over activation of the right hemisphere. [33],[34]

The association of nonacceptance of emotional responses and limited access to emotion regulation strategies, the two facets of emotion regulation difficulties, with greater preference for global synthetic mode of information processing can also be interpreted in the context of hemispheric theory of emotion and information processing. The nonacceptance of emotion reflects the tendency to have negative secondary emotions and the nonacceptance of one's reactions to distress, whereas the limited access to emotion regulation strategies reflects the belief that little can be done to effectively regulate one's emotions. [25] This conceptualization of the said emotion regulation difficulties suggest that adequate emotional regulation (i.e., acceptance of emotions and having access to emotion regulation strategies) involves proper understanding and analysis of one's emotional state and the situation leading to that emotional state. Such emotional understanding and analysis requires the left hemisphere's analytic abilities and a tendency to approach rather than avoid emotions and emotional situations. The observation that greater preference for global/synthetic over the analytic mode information processing is associated with emotion regulating difficulties is congruent with the hemispheric theory of information processing. This theory suggests that right hemisphere is less capable of analytic mode of processing information [2],[4] and is associated with an avoidance tendency rather than approach. [29],[30],[31],[32] Further, some studies have also noted that negative mood is associated with global or holistic processing and the positive mood with local processing. [35],[36] Thus, a preference for global/synthetic mode of information processing is likely to enhance negative affectivity and difficulties in regulating one's emotions.

The observation that a preference for visuospatial rather than the verbal mode of information processing is associated with such emotion regulation difficulties as difficulties engaging in goal-directed behavior, impulse control difficulties, and lack of emotional clarity is another important finding of this study. The review of the conceptual definitions of these emotion regulation difficulties suggests that such difficulties may occur because of the impairment of the channels to express emotions. [25] Since, the verbal channel is one of the most important channel to express and communicate one's emotion, the greater preference for visuospatial as compared to the verbal mode of information processing is likely to be associated with poor chance to appraise and express one's emotions. Consequently, it may result in difficulties in regulating emotions.

The said theoretical propositions, though, can potentially explain the link between the right hemispheric preference and greater emotion regulation difficulties, future research is need to empirically test such speculations. Further, there is also a need to plan future research aimed at exploring the possible mechanisms and processes whereby the right hemisphericity leads to greater emotion regulation difficulties.

To conclude, the findings of this study clearly point out to the possibility that sticking to only the right hemispheric mode of information processing may lead to emotion regulation difficulties. However, there is a need to replicate this study in future to draw valid conclusions as the present study was based on a very small sample and that too consisting of only male participants.

 
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