The Regulation of Negative Emotions: Impact on Brain Activity

New study published in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, March 18, 2008 – Emotions play an important role in the lives of humans, and influence our behavior, thoughts, decisions, and interactions. The ability to regulate emotions is essential to both mental and physical well-being. “Conversely, difficulties with emotion regulation have been postulated as a core mechanism underlying mood and anxiety disorders,” according to the authors of a new study published in Biological Psychiatry on March 15th. Thus, these researchers set out to further expand our understanding of the differential effects of emotion regulation strategies on the human brain.

Goldin and colleagues chose to compare two specific regulation strategies – cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression – in the context of negative emotions. Dr. Philippe R. Goldin describes these approaches: Reappraisal is a “cognitive strategy that alters the meaning of a potentially upsetting situation [and has] been associated with decreased levels of negative emotion and increased well-being,” whereas suppression is a “behavioral strategy that involves inhibiting ongoing emotion-expressive behavior [and has] been associated with increased physiological responding and decreased well-being.” This suggests that cognitive regulation, such as reappraisal, may be more effective because it impacts the emotion-generative process earlier than a behavioral strategy, like suppression.

To examine the differences in these processes, the researchers recruited healthy women volunteers who viewed short video clips of either neutral or negative (disgusting) stimuli and who were instructed to implement the differing emotion regulation strategies. While doing so, the women provided emotion experience ratings and their facial expressions were videotaped. In addition, their brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging, which allowed the authors to compare which areas of the brain were activated under each condition.

The authors found that, while reappraisal reduced negative emotion experience and suppression reduced disgust facial expressions, they markedly differed in their impact on brain activity. Reappraisal resulted in rapid cognitive regulation-related prefrontal cortical activation and subsequent reduction of activation in two brain regions implicated in emotional experience, the amygdala and insula. In contrast, suppression resulted in a delayed component of prefrontal cortex activation related to volitional motor inhibition, but increased the activity of the amygdala and insula.

John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, comments on the interest of these findings: “These data support the belief that response suppression ‘covers up’ stress response, so that people who use this approach remain in a state of heightened vulnerability to negative emotion, while reappraisal may be a more successful coping strategy.” Dr. Goldin adds, “This finding suggests that the efficacy of different emotion regulation strategies may be related to when they interrupt the emotion generative process. This sets the stage for understanding how to develop more effective forms of emotion regulation.”

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Notes to Editors:
The article is “The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion” by Philippe R. Goldin, Kateri McRae, Wiveka Ramel and James J. Gross. The authors are affiliated with the Department of Psychology at Stanford University in Stanford, California. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 63, Issue 6 (March 15, 2008), published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Jayne M. Dawkins at (215) 239-3674 or to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological Psychiatry
This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.

Biological Psychiatry is ranked 4th out of the 95 Psychiatry titles and 16th out of 199 Neurosciences titles on the 2006 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.

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