Does emotion regulation engage the same neural circuit as working memory? A meta-analytical comparison between cognitive reappraisal of negative emotion and 2-back working memory task

PLoS One. 2018 Sep 13;13(9):e0203753. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203753. eCollection 2018.


Research into cognitive emotion regulation (ER) extends our understanding of human cognition, which is capable of processing objective information and is crucial in maintaining subjective/internal homeostasis. Among various ER strategies, the alleviation of negative emotion via reappraisal is of particular importance for adaptation and psychological well-being. Although still debated, previous neuroimaging studies tend to infer that the reappraisal ER is mediated by the capability of working memory (WM), which has not been examined empirically. This meta-analytical study of published neuroimaging literature used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) to compare the neural circuits that regulate negative emotion (reappraisal tasks; 46 studies/1254 subjects) and execute WM (2-back tasks; 50 studies/1312 subjects), with special emphasis on the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Taking the canonical WM network as a reference, ALE results revealed that the dorsal midline PFC was partly shared by both ER and WM, whereas ER-specific PFC structures were delineated in the inferior, middle, and superior frontal cortices, as well as in the posterior brain regions. The peak coordinates of ER in the middle frontal cortex were dorsal to those of WM by 15.1 mm (left) and 21.6 mm (right). The results support specialized emotion-related neural substrates in the PFC, negating the assumption that reappraisal ER and WM rely on the same neural resources. The holistic picture of "emotional brain" may need to incorporate the emotion-related PFC circuit, together with subcortical and limbic emotion centers.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Dajia Lee's General Hospital, Lee's Medical Corporation, Taichung, Taiwan; Natural Science Foundation of Zhejiang Province Grant LY17H180007; Scientific Research Fund of Zhejiang Education Department Y201431735 (S-WX). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.