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Expressive Suppression and Executive Functioning

Expressive suppression is an emotion regulation strategy that consists of top-down, conscious control of reflexive behavioral expression of emotion (e.g., stifling laughter or crying, or maintaining a neutral facial expression to hide emotions; Gross & John, 2003). There is considerable evidence showing that emotion regulation in general and expressive suppression in particular is related to executive functioning (EF). First, emotion regulation and EF develop in tandem in childhood (Carlson & Wang, 2007; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010; Liebermann, Giesbrecht, & Muller, 2007).  Second, the networks that subserve emotion regulation and EF overlap, as is evidenced by imaging and lesion studies (Abler, Hofer, & Viviani, 2008; Giuliani, Drabant, Bhatnagar, & Gross, 2011; Hermann, Bieber, Keck, Vaitl, & Stark, 2014; Ohira et al., 2006; Salas et al., 2016). Third, successful execution of expressive suppression relates to performance on EF tests (Gyurak, Goodkind, Kramer, Miller, & Levenson, 2012). And lastly, both experimentally-manipulated (Fischer, Kastenmüller, & Asal, 2012; Franchow & Suchy, 2017; Schmeichel, 2007) and naturally-occurring (Franchow & Suchy, 2015; Niermeyer, Franchow, & Suchy, 2016; Niermeyer, Ziemnik, Franchow, Barron, & Suchy, 2018) expressive suppression are associated with subsequent decrements in behavioral control and EF performance, presumably due to depletion of executive resources.

In our laboratory, we have conducted several projects that examined both how self-reported expressive suppression and experimentally-manipulated expressive suppression result in decrements in EF.  We are consistently finding that expressive suppression has deleterious impact on EF test performance (as measured by the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System test, motor sequencing tests, and the Behavioral Dyscontrol Scale), as well as on instrumental activities of daily living.  Additionally, expressive suppression also interferes with the ability to learn new material, thereby interfering with practice effects as far out as one year after the initial test exposure.

When assessing expressive suppression via self-report, we use a measure developed in our laboratory (Burden of State Emotion Regulation Questionnaire; BSERQ).  When experimentally manipulating expressive suppression, we use a variety of amusing and disgusting images and videos that participants are asked to watch without showing disgust or amusement on their face.

This research serves as one of the bases of the ConVExA model studied in our laboratory.

Recent Publications on Expressive Suppression and EF

(students supervised as co-authors are italicized)


  1. Suchy, Y. Niermeyer, M., Franchow, E., Ziemnik, R. (in press). Naturally-occurring expressive suppression is associated with lapses in instrumental activities of daily living among community-dwelling older adults. The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.
  2. Niermeyer, M., Ziemnik, R., Franchow, E., Barron, C., Suchy, Y. (2019). Greater Naturally-Occurring Expressive Suppression is Associated with Poorer Executive Functioning and Motor-Sequence Learning Among Older Adults. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 41(2), 118-132.
  3. Suchy, Y. Niermeyer, M., Franchow, E., Ziemnik, R. (2019). The deleterious impact of expressive suppression on test performance persists at one-year follow-up in community-dwelling older adults. The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 25(1), 29-38.
  4. Suchy, Y.,Holmes, L.G., Strassberg, D.S., Gillespie, A.A., Nillsen, A.R., Niermeyer, M.A., & Huntach, B.A (2019). The impacts of sexual arousal and suppression of sexual arousal on executive functioning. Journal of Sex Research, 56 (1), 114-126.
  5. Huebner, D., McGarrity, L.A., Perry, N., Smith, T., & Suchy, Y. (2018). Changes in executive function following a stressful interpersonal task are associated with condomless anal intercourse among men who have sex with men. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 52 (5), 406-411.
  6. Franchow, E.I., & Suchy, Y. (2017). Expressive suppression depletes executive functioning in older adulthood. The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 23, 341-351.
  7. Niermeyer, M. A., Franchow, E.I., & Suchy, Y. (2016). Reported Expressive Suppression in Daily Life is Associated with Slower Action Planning. The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 22, 671-681.
  8. Franchow, E.I., & Suchy, Y. (2015). Naturally-occurring expressive suppression in daily life depletes executive functioning. Emotion, 15(1), 78-89.  
Last Updated: 10/8/20