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Title: The neurophysiology of emotion regulation
Author: Hallam, Glyn P.
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2013
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The ability to adaptively control one's own emotional experience, and interact with other people in order to influence their emotional state, is ubiquitous in all aspects of our daily functioning. The overarching aim of this thesis was to address a number of different questions concerning the neural basis of emotion regulation. The first research question was interested in examining the neural underpinnings of emotion regulation where the target of the regulation is another person (interpersonal emotion regulation) rather than the self (intrapersonal emotion regulation). This question was identified following a comprehensive review of the literature on the neural basis of emotion regulation, identifying the lack of research relating to interpersonal emotion regulation, even despite the prevalence of interpersonal emotion regulation in day-to-day life and its critical importance in interpersonal and social functioning. Chapter 2 therefore describes a novel fMRI task during which participants were required to interact with another person in order to achieve interpersonal emotion regulation (i.e. regulate the other person's emotion). It was found that, when compared with a matched intrapersonal emotion regulation task, the process of interpersonal emotion regulation involved overlap with the neural substrates underlying the regulation of one's own emotion, particularly within frontal cortex. However it was also found that interpersonal emotion regulation was underpinned by activation of areas known to be involved in aspects of social cognition such as mentalizing (e.g. anterior temporal pole, medial prefrontal cortex). This study therefore contributes to the knowledge of the neural basis of emotion regulation by showing that interpersonal emotion regulation relies upon facets of social cognition such as mentalizing in order to be successfully completed. The second research question to be identified was to what extent 'voluntary' and 'automatic' emotion regulation processes overlap or differ in terms of their neural basis. Chapter 3 therefore describes an fMRI study that was designed to probe the neural correlates of a form of emotion regulation that might be considered more 'automatic' in its nature; one that is supported by 'implementation intentions'. Implementation intentions are 'if-then' plans that link a situational cue (e.g., "If I see something disgusting") with a suitable goal-directed response (e.g., "then I will think these are just pixels on the screen!"). It was found that emotion regulation supported by implementation intentions was underpinned by activation within right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) and right ventro-parietal cortex (rVPC) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL), which may reflect the attentional control processes automatically captured by the cue for action. Direct comparisons between 'voluntary' emotion regulation (known as 'goal intentions') and implementation intentions also revealed that the modulation of activity within left amygdala was less effective for participants who formed only goal intentions to regulate (i.e., those who intended to regulate, but did not form a specific if-then plan to support this intention), supporting the increased efficacy of implementation intentions for emotion regulation, given that the amygdala is known to be involved in affective processing. The study described in chapter 3 is the first to use fMRI to investigate the neural basis of emotion regulation by implementation intentions and contributes to our understanding of the differing neural mechanisms underpinning effortful and automatic emotion regulation. The findings of chapter 3 also have translational clinical value given the high prevalence of emotion regulation deficits, particularly those of a more automatic nature, in psychiatric illness. Chapter 4 describes an investigation into whether, based on the knowledge obtained from chapters 2 and 3 and from previous investigations into the neural basis of emotion regulation, the efficacy of emotion regulation can be modulated by application of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Such an investigation allowed for an exploration of the causal role of the DLPFC in emotion regulation. It was found that anodal (excitatory) stimulation increased the efficacy of emotion regulation when using one particular strategy for emotion regulation, cognitive reappraisal, as measured by both self report and physiological measures (skin conductance response). However there was no effect found for the same procedure when looking at a different emotion regulation strategy, expressive suppression. This study therefore makes an original contribution to the knowledge of the neural basis of emotion regulation by demonstrating that manipulating the activity of brain areas such as DLPFC can manifest in observable effects on an individual's ability to regulate emotion by cognitive reappraisal, and also suggests that tDCS might have the potential to become an adjunct treatment for difficulties with emotion regulation. Chapter 5 describes work that utilized the high-resolution structural MRI scans obtained from the participants who took part in the study described in chapter 3 to investigate the relationship between brain structure, specifically grey matter volume, and automatic emotion regulation. This took the form of a voxel-based morphometry (VBM) study, using a measure of tendency to engage in automatic emotion regulation as indexed by scores on the Emotion Regulation Implicit Association Test (ER-IAT; Mauss et al., 2006). It was found that those individuals with a greater tendency to engage in automatic emotion regulation displayed reduced grey matter volume within a region of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, suggesting a role for dorsal anterior cingulate in emotion regulation in detecting the need for cognitive control. Chapter 6 summarises the studies described within chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5, discusses the merits of the contribution of each study, and suggests avenues for further investigation. For example, future work is suggested that would expand the knowledge gained from chapter 2, suggesting that interpersonal emotion regulation critically relies on 'intact' social cognition, that would investigate how the nature of the relationship between the protagonists in an interpersonal emotion regulation interaction might result in different neural correlates. Further work to emerge from chapter 3, given the finding that attentional control networks underpinned the efficacy of emotion regulation by implementation intentions, might include further investigation into how the nature of the cue for action might affect the neural underpinnings. The finding in Chapter 4 that anodal tDCS was able to enhance the efficacy of emotion regulation has particular implications for potential treatment of emotion dysregulation, and several such avenues are discussed.
Supervisor: Farrow, T. F. D. ; Webb, T. L. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available