Finding Positive Meaning in Negative Experiences Engages Ventral Striatal and Ventromedial Prefrontal Regions Associated with Reward Valuation

J Cogn Neurosci. 2017 Feb;29(2):235-244. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01041. Epub 2016 Sep 14.


Neuroimaging research has identified systems that facilitate minimizing negative emotion, but how the brain is able to transform the valence of an emotional response from negative to positive is unclear. Behavioral and psychophysiological studies suggest a distinction between minimizing reappraisal, which entails diminishing the arousal elicited by negative stimuli, and positive reappraisal, which instead changes the emotional valence of arousal from negative to positive. Here we show that successful minimizing reappraisal tracked with decreased activity in the amygdala, but successful positive reappraisal tracked with increased activity in regions involved in computing reward value, including the ventral striatum and ventromedial pFC (vmPFC). Moreover, positive reappraisal enhanced positive connectivity between vmPFC and amygdala, and individual differences in positive connectivity between vmPFC and amygdala, ventral striatum, dorsomedial pFC, and dorsolateral pFC predicted greater positive reappraisal success. These data broaden models of emotion regulation as quantitative dampening of negative emotion and identify activity in a network of brain valuation, arousal, and control regions as a neural basis for the ability to create positive meaning from negative experiences.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Ventral Striatum / diagnostic imaging
  • Ventral Striatum / physiology*
  • Young Adult