Emotion regulation plays a crucial role in an individual's well-being, as it is known that deficits in regulating emotions can lead to psychological and psychiatric disorders. Cognitive reappraisal is widely considered to be an adaptive and effective emotion-regulation strategy. People are more or less able to apply it, but it is still not clear how reappraisal affects brain structures and the psychological profile of individuals. In our study we thus aimed to explore the impact of applying reappraisal at both the neural and the psychological level. Source-based morphometry (SBM), a whole-brain multivariate method based on the Independent Component Analysis that extracts patterns of covariation of gray matter ("independent networks"), was applied to the MRI images of 37 participants. In order to enrich their psychological profiles, we measured their experienced affectivity (PANAS) and their empathic abilities (IRI). Based on the frequency of applying reappraisal (ERQ), participants were divided into low and high reappraisers (18 vs. 19). An independent source of gray matter emerged as being different between the groups: specifically, low reappraisers showed more gray matter volume concentration in a network including the frontal, temporal, and parietal regions as compared to high reappraisers. At the psychological level, low reappraisers reported a more strongly experienced negative affect, while no difference among reappraisers emerged with regard to empathic abilities. Capitalizing on a multivariate method for structural analysis that is innovative in this field, this study extends previous observations on individual differences in the ability to regulate emotions, and it describes a plausible impact of reappraisal on brain structures and affectivity.
Keywords: Affectivity; Emotion regulation; Morphometry; Multivariate; Reappraisal.