This study examined the role of trait anxiety in emotion regulation strategy selection and the effectiveness of the chosen strategy in regulating momentary anxiety. In anticipation of a stressful speech task, 97 undergraduates chose one of three emotion regulation strategies—reappraisal, distraction, and venting—to regulate their anxiety. Changes in anxiety from pre- to post-regulation were assessed via self-report and psychophysiological responses including markers of both sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity. Results revealed that lower levels of trait anxiety were significantly associated with greater likelihood of choosing distraction over reappraisal and venting. Trait anxiety did not moderate the relationship between choice of strategy and self-reported anxiety or SNS activity. In contrast, trait anxiety significantly moderated the relationship between choice of strategy and PNS activity. Among those with lower trait anxiety, reappraisal was associated with significantly greater physiological recovery from anxiety than distraction, while venting was associated with significantly less physiological recovery than distraction. In contrast, among those with higher trait anxiety, all three strategies were equally ineffective. Implications for the role of trait anxiety in selection and effective utilization of emotion regulation strategies are discussed.
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