The temporal dynamics of voluntary emotion regulation

PLoS One. 2009;4(8):e6726. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006726. Epub 2009 Aug 25.


Background: Neuroimaging has demonstrated that voluntary emotion regulation is effective in reducing amygdala activation to aversive stimuli during regulation. However, to date little is known about the sustainability of these neural effects once active emotion regulation has been terminated.

Methodology/principal findings: We addressed this issue by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in healthy female subjects. We performed an active emotion regulation task using aversive visual scenes (task 1) and a subsequent passive viewing task using the same stimuli (task 2). Here we demonstrate not only a significantly reduced amygdala activation during active regulation but also a sustained regulation effect on the amygdala in the subsequent passive viewing task. This effect was related to an immediate increase of amygdala signal in task 1 once active emotion regulation has been terminated: The larger this peak postregulation signal in the amygdala in task 1, the smaller the sustained regulation effect in task 2.

Conclusions/significance: In summary, we found clear evidence that effects of voluntary emotion regulation extend beyond the period of active regulation. These findings are of importance for the understanding of emotion regulation in general, for disorders of emotion regulation and for psychotherapeutic interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Photic Stimulation