Towards a human self-regulation system: Common and distinct neural signatures of emotional and behavioural control

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Jul;90:400-410. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.04.022. Epub 2018 May 3.


Self-regulation refers to controlling our emotions and actions in the pursuit of higher-order goals. Although research suggests commonalities in the cognitive control of emotion and action, evidence for a shared neural substrate is scant and largely circumstantial. Here we report on two large-scale meta-analyses of human neuroimaging studies on emotion or action control, yielding two fronto-parieto-insular networks. The networks' overlap, however, was restricted to four brain regions: posteromedial prefrontal cortex, bilateral anterior insula, and right temporo-parietal junction. Conversely, meta-analytic contrasts revealed major between-network differences, which were independently corroborated by clustering domain-specific regions based on their intrinsic functional connectivity, as well as by functionally characterizing network sub-clusters using the BrainMap database for quantitative forward and reverse inference. Collectively, our analyses identified a core system for implementing self-control across emotion and action, beyond which, however, either regulation facet appears to rely on broadly similar yet distinct subnetworks. These insights into the neurocircuitry subserving affective and executive facets of self-control suggest both processing commonalities and differences between the two aspects of human self-regulation.

Keywords: ALE meta-analysis; Cognitive control; Control theory; Emotion regulation; Executive functions; Functional decoding; Resting-state fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging*