We are frequently challenged with situations requiring the control of our emotions, often under substantial time-pressure and rapidly changing contextual demands. Coping with those demands requires the ability to flexibly and rapidly switch between different emotional control strategies. However, this ability has been largely neglected by current neurocognitive models on emotional control. Drawing on the decision-making literature, we propose that rapid switching between alternative emotional control strategies requires the concurrent evaluation of unchosen (counterfactual) options. This model explains how an individual can adaptively change emotional control behavior to meet contextual demands and shifting goals. We propose that the neural implementation of this emotional control mechanism relies on the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC/lateral frontal pole), given its known role in monitoring alternative options during cognitive decision-making tasks. We reappraise meta-analytic evidence showing consistent aPFC involvement during emotional control when monitoring of alternative emotional control strategies is required, and when alternative emotional actions have high value. We conclude with emphasizing the clinical and evolutionary implications of this new framework on emotional control.
Keywords: Anterior prefrontal cortex; Contextual switching; Emotion regulation; Lateral frontal pole; Neocortex evolution; Psychopathology; Regulatory flexibility.
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