Chapter 14 – Emotion Regulation

Emotion Regulation and the Brain

Recently, work has turned to assess the effect of various emotion regulation strategies on the brain.  Table 5 shows the general brain areas that become more and less activated during emotion regulation.  In general, strategies that require conscious processing such as reappraisal and suppression will activate brain areas linked to executive control.  Structures that are often activated during an emotional experience, such as the insula and amygdala, will become deactivated.


Table 5
Changes in Brain Structure Activation During Emotion Regulation

A table showing what Emotion regulation activates.
Emotion Regulation Activates
Inferior Parietal Cortex
Prefrontal Cortex


A table showing what emotion regulation deactivates.
Emotion Regulation Deactivates
Orbitofrontal Cortex


One study (Goldin et al., 2008) tested the effects of suppression and reappraisal on various brain structures.  While watching 15-second neutral and negative film clips, participants were assigned to simply watch (control), suppress facial expressions, or reappraise in an objective manner, all while submitting to fMRI scans.  During the negative clip, reappraisal and suppression both activated the prefrontal cortex (PFC), but at different points in time.  Reappraisal activated the PFC between 0 and 4.5 seconds of starting the clip, while suppression activated the PFC between 10.5 and 15 seconds.  This finding supports the process model of emotion which states that cognitive reappraisal occurs before suppression.  Over time, reappraisal decreased activation in the amygdala and insula, but suppression activated the amygdala and insula.  So, this finding suggests that suppression does not effectively deactivate the brain structures associated with intense emotions.  Figure 24 shows how activation in the amygdala changed over time.  This study might also exemplify the rebound effect found for thought suppression, such that expressive suppression might temporarily down-regulate our negative emotions, but over time we experience even more of a negative emotion.


Figure 24

Influence of Type of Emotion Regulation on Activation of Amygdala and Insula

A grid consisting of four line graphs. The top left graph is titled: Left Amygdala. The top right graph is labeled: Right Amygdala. The bottom left graph is labeled: Left Insula. The bottom right graph is labeled: Right Insula. There are 3 lines on each graph all representing the same thing. A solid line for Reappraise, a dashed line for Watch, and a ddottedd line for Suppress. The X and Y axis of each graph is the same. The x axis starts at 0 and increments by 1 to a maximum of 10. The y axis is labeled: % Signal Change. The Y axis starts at 0, and increments by 0.1 to a maximum of 0.7.Reproduced from “The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion,” by P.R. Goldin, K. McRae, W. Ramel, and J.J. Gross, 2008, Biological Psychiatry63(6), p. 580 ( Copyright 2008 by the Society of Biological Psychiatry.

In the video below, Dr. Kevin Ochsner discusses how emotion regulation activates various parts of the brain.  He also discusses how current work on the brain and regulation has refused earlier work, particularly on the amygdala.Watch Dr. Ochsner from 3:10 to 8:45.

From 14:38 to 21:35, Dr. Ochsner discusses maladaptive emotion regulation and disorders, focusing on his research in borderline personality disorder and substance abuse.



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