Emotion Down-Regulation Targets Interoceptive Brain Regions While Emotion Up-Regulation Targets Other Affective Brain Regions

Author: Jungwon Min1, Kaoru Nashiro1, Hyun Joo Yoo1, Christine Cho1, Padideh Nasseri1, Shelby L Bachman1, Shai Porat1, Julian F Thayer2, Catie Chang3, Tae-Ho Lee4, Mara Mather5
1 University of Southern California (CA 90089).
2 University of California, Irvine (CA 92697).
3 Vanderbilt University (TN 37235).
4 Virginia Tech (VA 24061).
5 University of Southern California (CA 90089) mara.mather@usc.edu.
Conference/Journal: J Neurosci
Date published: 2022 Feb 18
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1865-21.2022. , Word Count: 309

Researchers generally agree that when up- and down-regulating emotion, control regions in the prefrontal cortex turn up or down activity in affect-generating brain areas. However, the 'affective dial hypothesis' that turning up and down emotions produces opposite effects in the same affect-generating regions is untested. We tested this hypothesis by examining the overlap between the regions activated during up-regulation and those deactivated during down-regulation in 54 male and 51 female humans. We found that up- and down-regulation both recruit regulatory regions such as the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus but act on distinct affect-generating regions. Up-regulation increased activity in regions associated with emotional experience such as the amygdala, anterior insula, striatum and anterior cingulate gyrus as well as in regions associated with sympathetic vascular activity such as periventricular white matter, while down-regulation decreased activity in regions receiving interoceptive input such as the posterior insula and postcentral gyrus. Nevertheless, participants' subjective sense of emotional intensity was associated with activity in overlapping brain regions (dorsal anterior cingulate, insula, thalamus, and frontal pole) across up- and down-regulation. These findings indicate that up- and down-regulation rely on overlapping brain regions to control and assess emotions but target different affect-generating brain regions.Significance Statement:Many contexts require modulating one's own emotions. Identifying the brain areas implementing these regulatory processes should advance understanding emotional disorders and designing potential interventions. The emotion regulation field has an implicit assumption we call the affective dial hypothesis: both emotion up- and down-regulation modulate the same emotion-generating brain areas. Countering the hypothesis, our findings indicate that up- and down-modulating emotions target different brain areas. Thus, the mechanisms underlying emotion regulation might differ more than previously appreciated for up- versus down-regulation. In addition to their theoretical importance, these findings are critical for researchers attempting to target activity in particular brain regions during an emotion regulation intervention.

PMID: 35193926 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1865-21.2022