Participants who are instructed to use reappraisal to downregulate negative emotion show decreased amygdala responses and increased prefrontal responses. However, it is not known whether individual differences in the tendency to use reappraisal manifests in similar neural responses when individuals are spontaneously confronted with negative situations. Such spontaneous emotion regulation might play an important role in normal and pathological responses to the emotional challenges of everyday life.
Fifty-six healthy women completed a blood oxygenation-level dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging challenge paradigm involving the perceptual processing of emotionally negative facial expressions. Participants also completed measures of typical emotion regulation use, trait anxiety, and neuroticism.
Greater use of reappraisal in everyday life was related to decreased amygdala activity and increased prefrontal and parietal activity during the processing of negative emotional facial expressions. These associations were not attributable to variation in trait anxiety, neuroticism, or the use of another common form of emotion regulation, namely suppression.
These findings suggest that, like instructed reappraisal, individual differences in reappraisal use are associated with decreased activation in ventral emotion generative regions and increased activation in prefrontal control regions in response to negative stimuli. Such individual differences in emotion regulation might predict successful coping with emotional challenges as well as the onset of affective disorders.
Keywords: Amygdala, cognitive control, emotion, fMRI, regulation, reappraisal