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
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
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."