Tune in to the right frequency: Theta changes when distancing from emotions elicited by unpleasant images and words

Eur J Neurosci. 2021 Feb;53(3):916-928. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15013. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


Emotion regulation allows humans to successfully modulate their reactions to life events. Whether regulation strategies may alter brain oscillatory activity and how they are influenced by format and emotional dimensions is still under debate. We investigated oscillatory brain dynamics during the implementation of the strategy of Distancing and during the regulation of the emotions elicited by neutral and unpleasant pictures and, for the first time, words. When implementing the strategy, an early increase in theta band in posterior regions was observed (Effect of Strategy). We interpret this effect as a marker of emotion regulation, and we suggest an integrative framework of the role of theta on regulatory processes. When regulating the emotional impact elicited by stimuli, a decrease in the theta and beta bands in posterior regions for pictures, but not for words, was observed (Effect of Regulation). Behaviorally, the Effect of Regulation was evident for both pictures and words and more pronounced for Valence than for Arousal. These results contribute to better understand the neural and behavioral features of Distancing (both Effect of Strategy and of Regulation), and open up the possibility to clarify which strategy works better to modulate specific stimulus types and emotional dimensions.

Keywords: EEG; emotion regulation; pictures; time frequency; words.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal
  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation