The voluntary emotion regulation task comprised the reinterpretation of negative events, such as scenes depicted in images or movie clips, to lessen or intensify an emotional response. Similar forms of the task have been previously used with studies involving older adults (Opitz et al., 2012; Urry et al., 2009). To induce negative affect prior to regulation, participants viewed each picture for three seconds after which they were presented with an audio instruction to “suppress” (decrease), “enhance” (increase), or “maintain” (attend). Upon hearing “suppress” participants were asked to consider a less negative outcome of the scenario than they had thought prior to the instruction. For “enhance” they were asked to consider a more negative outcome, and for “maintain” they were asked to keep their original impression in mind. Participants were asked to keep following the instruction until the image disappeared after a further six seconds. Participants received training and practice on the task immediately prior to scanning.1 Example regulation strategies were suggested, e.g. for a picture of an injured animal to “enhance” their response they might consider the animal will die, or to “suppress” they might consider the animal will recover. Participants then practiced the task on five scenarios and were asked what strategy they used to follow the instruction. Training and practice was repeated if participants did not report the use of emotion regulatory strategies as intended.

Following the picture, a ratings screen was presented for two seconds, during which participants were asked to rate the prior image as neutral, somewhat negative, quite negative, or very negative. The 96 trials involved a pseudo-randomised presentation of picture-instruction combinations. All neutral pictures were accompanied by the “maintain” instruction.

The protocol was divided into four blocks, between which the participant was allowed to rest before commencing the next block. Inter trial interval was jittered, and each block lasted for a duration of approximately seven minutes.

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