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07-09-2016 | Uitgave 1/2017 Open Access

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 1/2017

Is Distraction an Adaptive or Maladaptive Strategy for Emotion Regulation? A Person-Oriented Approach

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment > Uitgave 1/2017
Martin Wolgast, Lars-Gunnar Lundh


Distraction is an emotion regulation strategy that has an ambiguous status within cognitive-behavior therapy. According to some treatment protocols it is counterproductive, whereas according to other protocols it is seen as a quite useful strategy. The main purpose of the present study was to test the hypothesis that distraction is adaptive when combined with active acceptance, but maladaptive when combined with avoidant strategies. A non-clinical community sample of adults (N = 638) and a clinical sample (N = 172) completed measures of emotion regulation and well-being. Hierarchical cluster analysis was used to identify subgroups with different profiles on six emotion regulation variables, and these subgroups were then compared on well-being (positive and negative emotionality, and life quality) and on clinical status. A nine-cluster solution was chosen on the basis of explained variance and homogeneity coefficients. Two of these clusters had almost identical scores on distraction, but showed otherwise very different profiles (distraction combined with acceptance vs. distraction combined with avoidance). The distraction-acceptance cluster scored significantly higher than the distraction-avoidance cluster on all measures of well-being; it was also under-represented in the clinical sample, whereas the distraction-avoidance cluster was over-represented. Limitations include a cross-sectional design, and use of self-report measures. The findings suggest that distraction may be either adaptive or maladaptive, depending on whether it is combined with an attitude of acceptance or avoidance.

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