For better or for worse: neural systems supporting the cognitive down- and up-regulation of negative emotion

Neuroimage. 2004 Oct;23(2):483-99. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.06.030.


Functional neuroimaging studies examining the neural bases of the cognitive control of emotion have found increased prefrontal and decreased amygdala activation for the reduction or down-regulation of negative emotion. It is unknown, however, (1) whether the same neural systems underlie the enhancement or up-regulation of emotion, and (2) whether altering the nature of the regulatory strategy alters the neural systems mediating the regulation. To address these questions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants up- and down-regulated negative emotion either by focusing internally on the self-relevance of aversive scenes or by focusing externally on alternative meanings for pictured actions and their situational contexts. Results indicated (1a) that both up- and down-regulating negative emotion recruited prefrontal and anterior cingulate regions implicated in cognitive control, (1b) that amygdala activation was modulated up or down in accord with the regulatory goal, and (1c) that up-regulation uniquely recruited regions of left rostromedial PFC implicated in the retrieval of emotion knowledge, whereas down-regulation uniquely recruited regions of right lateral and orbital PFC implicated in behavioral inhibition. Results also indicated that (2) self-focused regulation recruited medial prefrontal regions implicated in internally focused processing, whereas situation-focused regulation recruited lateral prefrontal regions implicated in externally focused processing. These data suggest that both common and distinct neural systems support various forms of reappraisal and that which particular prefrontal systems modulate the amygdala in different ways depends on the regulatory goal and strategy employed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Social Perception*