Abstract

The ability to cope adaptively with emotional events by volitionally altering one's emotional reactions is important for psychological and physical health as well as social interaction. Cognitive regulation of emotional responses to aversive events engages prefrontal regions that modulate activity in emotion-processing regions such as the amygdala. However, the neural correlates of the regulation of positive emotions remain largely unexplored. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural correlates of cognitively increasing and decreasing emotional reactions to positive and negative stimuli. Participants viewed negative, positive, and neutral pictures while attempting to increase, decrease, or not alter their emotional reactions. Subjective reactions were assessed via on-line ratings. Consistent with previous studies, increasing negative and positive emotion engaged primarily left-lateralized prefrontal regions, whereas decreasing emotion activated bilateral prefrontal regions. Different activations unique to increasing versus decreasing emotion were observed for positive and negative stimuli: Unique increase-related activations were observed only for positive stimuli, whereas unique decrease-related activations were observed only for negative stimuli. Regulation also modulated activity in the amygdala, a key emotion-processing region. Regulation effects on amygdala activity were larger for positive than for negative stimuli, potentially reflecting a greater malleability of positive emotional reactions. Increasing and decreasing positive and negative emotion can thus increase and decrease subjective reactions and associated amygdala activity in line with regulatory goals, and is associated with different patterns of prefrontal activation as a function of emotional valence and regulatory goal.

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