OBJECTIVE Deficits in positive affect and their neural bases have been associated with major depression. However, whether reductions in positive affect result solely from an overall reduction in nucleus accumbens activity and fronto-striatal connectivity or the additional inability to sustain engagement of this network over time is unknown. The authors sought to determine whether treatment-induced changes in the ability to sustain nucleus accumbens activity and fronto-striatal connectivity during the regulation of positive affect are associated with gains in positive affect. METHOD Using fMRI, the authors assessed the ability to sustain activity in reward-related networks when attempting to increase positive emotion during performance of an emotion regulation paradigm in 21 depressed patients before and after 2 months of antidepressant treatment. Over the same interval, 14 healthy comparison subjects underwent scanning as well. RESULTS After 2 months of treatment, self-reported positive affect increased. The patients who demonstrated the largest increases in sustained nucleus accumbens activity over the 2 months were those who demonstrated the largest increases in positive affect. In addition, the patients who demonstrated the largest increases in sustained fronto-striatal connectivity were also those who demonstrated the largest increases in positive affect when controlling for negative affect. None of these associations were observed in healthy comparison subjects. CONCLUSIONS Treatment-induced change in the sustained engagement of fronto-striatal circuitry tracks the experience of positive emotion in daily life. Studies examining reduced positive affect in a variety of psychiatric disorders might benefit from examining the temporal dynamics of brain activity when attempting to understand changes in daily positive affect.
The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.
Depression has been associated with dysfunctional executive functions and abnormal activity within the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region critically involved in action regulation. Prior research invites the possibility that executive deficits in depression may arise from abnormal responses to negative feedback or errors, but the underlying neural substrates remain unknown. We hypothesized that abnormal reactions to error would be associated with dysfunctional rostral ACC activity, a region previously implicated in error detection and evaluation of the emotional significance of events. To test this hypothesis, subjects with low and high Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) scores performed an Eriksen Flanker task. To assess whether tonic activity within the rostral ACC predicted post-error adjustments, 128-channel resting EEG data were collected before the task and analyzed with low-resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORETA) using a region-of-interest approach. High BDI subjects were uniquely characterized by significantly lower accuracy after incorrect than correct trials. Mirroring the behavioral findings, high BDI subjects had significantly reduced pretask gamma (36.5-44 Hz) current density within the affective (rostral; BA24, BA25, BA32) but not cognitive (dorsal; BA24', BA32') ACC subdivision. For low, but not high, BDI subjects pretask gamma within the affective ACC subdivision predicted post-error adjustments even after controlling for activity within the cognitive ACC subdivision. Abnormal responses to errors may thus arise due to lower activity within regions subserving affective and/or motivational responses to salient cues. Because rostral ACC regions have been implicated in treatment response in depression, our findings provide initial insight into putative mechanisms fostering treatment response.
This article assessed whether resting electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry in anterior regions of the brain can predict affective responses to emotion elicitors. Baseline EEG was recorded from 32 female adults, after which Ss viewed film clips preselected to elicit positive or negative affect. Resting alpha power asymmetry in the frontal region significantly predicted self-reported global negative affect in response to clips and predicted the difference between global positive and negative affect. Analyses of discrete emotions revealed a strong relation between frontal asymmetry and fear responses to films. Effects were independent of Ss mood ratings at the time at which baseline EEG was measured. Resting anterior asymmetry may be a state-independent index of the individual's predisposition to respond affectively.
Resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSAREST) indexes important aspects of individual differences in emotionality. In the present investigation, the authors address whether RSAREST is associated with tonic positive or negative emotionality, and whether RSAREST relates to phasic emotional responding to discrete positive emotion-eliciting stimuli. Across an 8-month, multiassessment study of first-year university students (n = 80), individual differences in RSAREST were associated with positive but not negative tonic emotionality, assessed at the level of personality traits, long-term moods, the disposition toward optimism, and baseline reports of current emotional states. RSAREST was not related to increased positive emotion, or stimulus-specific emotion, in response to compassion-, awe-, or pride-inducing stimuli. These findings suggest that resting RSA indexes aspects of a person's tonic positive emotionality.
Although several studies have examined anterior asymmetric brain electrical activity and cortisol in infants, children, and adults, the direct association between asymmetry and cortisol has not systematically been reported. In nonhuman primates, greater relative right anterior activation has been associated with higher cortisol levels. The current study examines the relation between frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry and cortisol (basal and reactive) and withdrawal-related behaviors (fear and sadness) in 6-month-old infants. As predicted, the authors found that higher basal and reactive cortisol levels were associated with extreme right EEG asymmetry. EEG during the withdrawal-negative affect task was associated with fear and sadness behaviors. Results are interpreted in the context of the previous primate work, and some putative mechanisms are discussed.
Drawing on recent claims in the study of relationships, attachment, and emotion, the authors hypothesized that romantic love serves a commitment-related function and sexual desire a reproduction-related function. Consistent with these claims, in Study 1, brief experiences of romantic love and sexual desire observed in a 3-min interaction between romantic partners were related to distinct feeling states, distinct nonverbal displays, and commitment- and reproductive-related relationship outcomes, respectively. In Study 2, the nonverbal display of romantic love was related to the release of oxytocin. Discussion focuses on the place of romantic love and sexual desire in the literature on emotion.
Schools are searching for innovative ways to meet the unique academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs of adolescents, many of whom face serious personal and family challenges. An innovative practice that is currently being introduced into school settings is meditation. Types of meditation offered in school-based settings include mindfulness meditation, the relaxation response, and Transcendental Meditation. These practices, as cognitive-behavioral interventions that are available for use by social workers and other school professionals, help students to enhance academic and psychosocial strengths and improve self-regulation capacities and coping abilities. This article defines meditation and meditative practices, reviews the literature showing the benefits and challenges of offering meditation to adolescents in a school-based setting, and describes the relevance of these practices for adolescents. The article also discusses implications for school social workers, teachers, and school administrators and reflects on the current research and future efforts toward building the research base for the promising practice of meditation in schools.
Recent literature has described how the capacity for concurrent self-assessment—ongoing moment-to-moment self-monitoring—is an important component of the professional competence of physicians. Self-monitoring refers to the ability to notice our own actions, curiosity to examine the effects of those actions, and willingness to use those observations to improve behavior and thinking in the future. Self-monitoring allows for the early recognition of cognitive biases, technical errors, and emotional reactions and may facilitate self-correction and development of therapeutic relationships. Cognitive neuroscience has begun to explore the brain functions associated with self-monitoring, and the structural and functional changes that occur during mental training to improve attentiveness, curiosity, and presence. This training involves cultivating habits of mind such as experiencing information as novel, thinking of “facts” as conditional, seeing situations from multiple perspectives, suspending categorization and judgment, and engaging in self-questioning. The resulting awareness is referred to as mindfulness and the associated moment-to-moment self-monitoring as mindful practice—in contrast to being on “automatic pilot” or “mindless” in one's behavior. This article is a preliminary exploration into the intersection of educational assessment, cognitive neuroscience, and mindful practice, with the hope of promoting ways of improving clinicians' capacity to self-monitor during clinical practice, and, by extension, improve the quality of care that they deliver.
This brief commentary highlights seven sins in the study of emotion that are explicitly treated in contemporary affective neuroscience. These sins are (1) Affect and cognition are subserved by separate and independent neural circuits; (2) Affect is subcortical; (3) Emotions are in the head; (4) Emotions can be studied from a purely psychological perspective; (5) Emotions are similar in structure across age and species; (6) Specific emotions are instantiated in discrete locations in the brain; and (7) Emotions are conscious feeling states. Each of these is briefly discussed and evidence from affective neuroscience that bears on these sins is noted. The articles in this Special Issue underscore the vitality of research in affective neuroscience and illustrate how some of these sins can be addressed and rectified using concepts and methods from affective neuroscience.
This paper reports three studies showing sex differences in EEG asymmetry during self-generated cognitive and affective tasks. In the first experiment, bilateral EEG, quantified for alpha on-line, was recorded from right-handed subjects while they either whistled, sang or recited lyrics of familiar songs. The results revealed significant asymmetry between the whistle and talk conditions only for subjects with no familial left-handedness and, within this group, only for females and not for males. In the second experiment, bilateral EEG was recorded while right-handed subjects (with no familial left-handedness) self-induced covert affective and non-affective states. Results revealed significantly greater relative right-hemisphere activation during emotion versus non-emotion trials only in females; males showed no significant task-dependent shifts in asymmetry between conditions. The third experiment was designed to test the hypothesis that females show greater percent time asymmetry than males during biofeedback training for symmetrical and asymmetrical EEG patterns. Results confirmed this prediction as well as indicating that females show better control of such asymmetrical cortical patterning. These findings provide new neuropsychological support for the hypothesis of greater bilateral flexibility in females during self-generation tasks.
The development of functional neuroimaging of emotion holds the promise to enhance our understanding of the biological bases of affect and improve our knowledge of psychiatric diseases. However, up to this point, researchers have been unable to objectively, continuously and unobtrusively measure the intensity and dynamics of affect concurrently with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This has hindered the development and generalizability of our field. Facial electromyography (EMG) is an objective, reliable, valid, sensitive, and unobtrusive measure of emotion. Here, we report the successful development of a method for simultaneously acquiring fMRI and facial EMG. The ability to simultaneously acquire brain activity and facial physiology will allow affective neuroscientists to address theoretical, psychiatric, and individual difference questions in a more rigorous and generalizable way.
OBJECTIVES: Affective neuroscience research that investigates core symptoms of pediatric bipolar disorder (PBD) may be effective in differentiating PBD phenotypes. The current study used affect-modulated startle to examine potential differences in reactivity to emotional stimuli (reward and punishment) in narrow and broad phenotype PBD and controls. METHODS: Thirty children meeting DSM-IV bipolar disorder criteria (i.e. narrow phenotype PBD with defined manic episodes with elevated/expansive mood), 19 children meeting criteria for severe mood dysregulation (i.e. broad phenotype with chronic irritability, hyper-reactivity, and hyperarousal), and 19 controls completed a lottery startle paradigm involving reward (money) and punishment (loud noise). Startle probes were presented during anticipation of the emotional stimulus, immediately following the presentation of the stimulus, or during return to baseline following the stimulus. RESULTS: By self-report, patients and controls found the putative punishment to be preferable to the neutral condition. In the reward condition, patient samples reported greater arousal than did controls, but no between-group differences were found on the magnitude of startle response during the reward, punishment, or neutral conditions. CONCLUSIONS: The failure to find differences in affect-modulated startle between control children and those with narrow or broad PBD phenotypes speaks to the methodological challenges associated with studying reward mechanisms in PBD. Alternative paradigms that focus on different aspects of reward mechanisms are discussed.
Facial expressions of pain are an important part of the pain response, signaling distress to others and eliciting social support. To evaluate how voluntary modulation of this response contributes to the pain experience, 29 subjects were exposed to thermal stimulation while making standardized pain, control, or relaxed faces. Dependent measures were self-reported negative effect (valence and arousal) as well as the intensity of nociceptive stimulation required to reach a given subjective level of pain. No direct social feedback was given by the experimenter. Although the amount of nociceptive stimulation did not differ across face conditions, subjects reported more negative effects in response to painful stimulation while holding the pain face. Subsequent analyses suggested the effects were not due to preexisting differences in the difficulty or unpleasantness of making the pain face. These results suggest that voluntary pain expressions have no positively reinforcing (pain attenuating) qualities, at least in the absence of external contingencies such as social reinforcement, and that such expressions may indeed be associated with higher levels of negative affect in response to similar nociceptive input. PERSPECTIVE: This study demonstrates that making a standardized pain face increases negative affect in response to nociceptive stimulation, even in the absence of social feedback. This suggests that exaggerated facial displays of pain, although often socially reinforced, may also have unintended aversive consequences.
This commentary provides reflections on the current state of affairs in research on EEG frontal asymmetries associated with affect. Although considerable progress has occurred since the first report on this topic 25 years ago, research on frontal EEG asymmetries associated with affect has largely evolved in the absence of any serious connection with neuroscience research on the structure and function of the primate prefrontal cortex (PFC). Such integration is important as this work progresses since the neuroscience literature can help to understand what the prefrontal cortex is "doing" in affective processing. Data from the neuroscience literature on the heterogeneity of different sectors of the PFC are introduced and more specific hypotheses are offered about what different sectors of the PFC might be doing in affect. A number of methodological issues associated with EEG measures of functional prefrontal asymmetries are also considered.
For survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), verbal disclosure is often complex and painful. The authors examined the voluntary disclosure-nondisclosure of CSA in relation to nonverbal expressions of emotion in the face. Consistent with hypotheses derived from recent theorizing about the moral nature of emotion, CSA survivors who did not voluntarily disclose CSA showed greater facial expressions of shame, whereas CSA survivors who voluntarily disclosed CSA expressed greater disgust. Expressions of disgust also signaled sexual abuse accompanied by violence. Consistent with recent theorizing about smiling behavior, CSA nondisclosers made more polite smiles, whereas nonabused participants expressed greater genuine positive emotion. Discussion addressed the implications of these findings for the study of disclosure of traumatic events, facial expression, and the links between morality and emotion.
Do people benefit when they think their partner has made a sacrifice for the relationship? In a multimethod study of 80 couples, we examined whether people can detect when their partner suppresses their emotions and if perceived partner suppression is costly for the recipient of sacrifice. When people listened to their partner recall an important sacrifice in the lab and when people thought their partner sacrificed in daily life, they thought that their partner was less authentic the more they perceived them to have suppressed their emotions. In turn, perceived partner inauthenticity during sacrifice was associated with poorer personal well-being and relationship quality. These effects persisted over time with perceived partner suppression predicting poorer relationship quality 3 months later. The results were independent from the influence of an actor’s projection of their own suppression and their partner’s actual suppression. Implications for research on emotion regulation and close relationships are discussed.
BACKGROUND: Although yoga and meditation have been used for stress reduction with reported improvement in inflammation, little is known about the biological mechanisms mediating such effects. The present study examined if a yogic meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral transcription control pathways that shape immune cell gene expression. METHODS: Forty-five family dementia caregivers were randomized to either Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) or Relaxing Music (RM) listening for 12 min daily for 8 weeks and 39 caregivers completed the study. Genome-wide transcriptional profiles were collected from peripheral blood leukocytes sampled at baseline and 8-week follow-up. Promoter-based bioinformatics analyses tested the hypothesis that observed transcriptional alterations were structured by reduced activity of the pro-inflammatory nuclear factor (NF)-κB family of transcription factors and increased activity of Interferon Response Factors (IRFs; i.e., reversal of patterns previously linked to stress). RESULTS: In response to KKM treatment, 68 genes were found to be differentially expressed (19 up-regulated, 49 down-regulated) after adjusting for potentially confounded differences in sex, illness burden, and BMI. Up-regulated genes included immunoglobulin-related transcripts. Down-regulated transcripts included pro-inflammatory cytokines and activation-related immediate-early genes. Transcript origin analyses identified plasmacytoid dendritic cells and B lymphocytes as the primary cellular context of these transcriptional alterations (both p<.001). Promoter-based bioinformatic analysis implicated reduced NF-κB signaling and increased activity of IRF1 in structuring those effects (both p<.05). CONCLUSION: A brief daily yogic meditation intervention may reverse the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor.