Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name





attentional deployment, emotion regulation, eye-tracking


Julie Hakim-Larson




Attentional deployment is an emotion regulation strategy in which individuals redirect their attentional focus to change their emotional experience (Gross, 2013). At the present time, there is no standardized method of measuring attentional deployment. Some studies have adapted the use of eye-tracking to measure visual attentional deployment while viewing still images (Bebko et al., 2011; Wirth et al., 2018). The present research used novel methodology, in two studies, to operationally define attentional deployment and work toward a standardized measurement tool for attentional deployment (via eye-tracking). This research explores attentional deployment in relation to other emotion regulations strategies, how symptoms of disordered attention, as seen in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), relate to use of emotion regulation strategies, and explores emotion appraisal in attentional deployment. Participants in both studies were undergraduate students at a medium-sized, ethnically diverse, university in southwestern Ontario. Two separate studies were conducted with identical methodology, apart from the the eye-tracking task. The emotionally charged stimuli presented during the eye-tracking task were either realistic video clips of people or a video clip of moving shapes, often interpreted as a negative interaction. In Study 1 (N = 89), participants were shown five randomized clips from the motion picture, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Halfon, Smith, Malkovich, & Chbosky, 2012) and rated each clip as evoking positive or negative emotions. Three clips were used for analyses. One clip was rated by all participants as evoking negative emotions, and another clip was rated by all participants as evoking positive emotions; the third clip was ambiguous (i.e., 44 participants rated the clip as positive and 45 rated it as negative). In Study 2 (N = 98), participants viewed Heider and Simmel’s (1944) short film of moving shapes, often anthropomorphized and interpreted as a negative interaction (Klin, 2000). Participants’ ADHD symptoms, self-reported impulsivity, behavioural impulsivity, and emotion regulation strategies were also collected for both studies. Participants demonstrated greater attentional deployment (attention directed away from evocative areas in the video clip) when viewing the negative clip than the ambiguous clip, and the least attentional deployment when viewing the positive clip. Average pupil diameter was largest during the negative clip, smaller for the positive clip, and smallest for the ambiguous clip. Greater attentional deployment in the positive clip and the ambiguously evocative clip predicted greater use of cognitive reappraisal strategies and greater use of expressive suppression strategies, respectively. As well, participants in Study 1 with higher self-reported ADHD symptoms (and higher impulsivity) reported using less cognitive reappraisal strategies than participants with lower self-reported ADHD symptoms. However, this result was not replicated in Study 2. A post-hoc analysis showed that participants in Study 2 endorsed much higher levels of impulsivity (i.e., in the clinical range) than did participants in Study 1. Findings highlight the potential for using eye-tracking as a standardized research tool to measure visual attentional deployment. The results also suggest that different mechanisms may underlie the processes of attentional deployment, cognitive reappraisal, and expressive suppression such that different valence stimuli elicit different types of emotion regulation responses. In addition, greater attentional deployment away from evocative areas of the stimuli occurred when viewing video clips evoking negative emotions rather than positive emotions and this was consistently demonstrated for both video clips of people and the video of moving shapes, highlighting the importance of participants’ emotional appraisal of events for the process of emotion regulation.