Donders Wonders

Cognitive emotion-regulation

This post is also available in Dutch.

In this comic we saw that emotions have a physical and mental component. Here we discuss a tool (‘cognitive reappraisal’) to regulate your mind, thus influencing the body.

In other words, we have specific thoughts about the various situations in our lives. These thoughts are a personal interpretation of the situation and we can influence how we react and react in a negative or positive way. The same situation can lead to different thoughts and feelings in different people. Cognitive reappraisal is a well-established technique (see references) that focuses on analyzing and transforming negative (unhelpful) thoughts on a situation in the context of neutral or positive (helpful) thoughts in order to feel better.

Of course, there are plenty of situations in which it is normal to feel bad for a while, or even for a long period (for example, a death or a family member, for example). The focus here is not on these extreme situations, but on those that are less severe or more ambiguous, that is, when we notice that we are in a better position. use some help to try and change those thoughts.


The comic below illustrates the principle behind cognitive reappraisal:

In this comic we see that two parrots are undergoing the same situation (not being able to somersault).

The parrot on the top of the last square has unhelpful thoughts, leading to a negative feeling, while helping to create a more neutral or positive feeling.

This illustrates that how you think about a situation can influence how you feel about it. Assessing the situation, taking a broader perspective, and changing unhelpful thoughts into helpful thoughts can make you feel better. This is the principle behind cognitive reappraisal.


Common phrases that can help to recognize unhelpful or helpful thoughts

Unhelpful thoughts:

-I will fail

-Something bad will happen

-I am a loser

-Nobody likes me

-It’s all their fault…


Helping thoughts:

-That’s not true because…

-A different way of looking at this is…

-It’s not that bad because…

-What could also happen is…

To summarize: cognitive reappraisal is about replacing unhelpful thoughts about a situation with helpful thoughts in order to feel better.



Learn to identify when you are having unhelpful thoughts about a situation. Practice with coming up with helpful thoughts. The more you practice this, the easier it will get.

If you are stuck in a unhelpful thought, ask your family and friends for suggestions for coming up with more helpful thoughts.


Written by Izabela Przezdzik and Sophie Akkermans, illustrated by Roselyne Chauvin, edited by Roselyne Chauvin and Annelies van Nuland.

An extended version of this activity will be added to the Donders teaching kit V2, to be released in spring.



Gross, J.J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–291.

Cutuli, D. (2014). Cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression strategies role in the emotional regulation: an overview of their modulatory effects and neural correlates. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8 , article 175.

On cognitive reappraisal:

Webb, TL, Miles, E., Sheeran, P. (2012). Dealing with feeling: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of strategies from the process model of emotion regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 138 (4), 775-808.

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