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The brain circuitry underlying emotion includes several territories of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate, and related structures. In general, the PFC represents emotion in the absence of immediately present incentives and thus plays a crucial role in the anticipation of the future affective consequences of action, as well as in the persistence of emotion following the offset of an elicitor. The functions of the other structures in this circuit are also considered. Individual differences in this circuitry are reviewed, with an emphasis on asymmetries within the PFC and activation of the amygdala as 2 key components of affective style. These individual differences are related to both behavioral and biological variables associated with affective style and emotion regulation. Plasticity in this circuitry and its implications for transforming emotion and cultivating positive affect and resilience are considered.
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Despite growing evidence on the neural bases of emotion regulation, little is known about the mechanisms underlying individual differences in cognitive regulation of negative emotion, and few studies have used objective measures to quantify regulatory success. Using a trait-like psychophysiological measure of emotion regulation, corrugator electromyography, we obtained an objective index of the ability to cognitively reappraise negative emotion in 56 healthy men (Session 1), who returned 1.3 years later to perform the same regulation task using fMRI (Session 2). Results indicated that the corrugator measure of regulatory skill predicted amygdala-prefrontal functional connectivity. Individuals with greater ability to down-regulate negative emotion as indexed by corrugator at Session 1 showed not only greater amygdala attenuation but also greater inverse connectivity between the amygdala and several sectors of the prefrontal cortex while down-regulating negative emotion at Session 2. Our results demonstrate that individual differences in emotion regulation are stable over time and underscore the important role of amygdala-prefrontal coupling for successful regulation of negative emotion.
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Although the co-occurrence of negative affect and pain is well recognized, the mechanism underlying their association is unclear. To examine whether a common self-regulatory ability impacts the experience of both emotion and pain, we integrated neuroimaging, behavioral, and physiological measures obtained from three assessments separated by substantial temporal intervals. Our results demonstrated that individual differences in emotion regulation ability, as indexed by an objective measure of emotional state, corrugator electromyography, predicted self-reported success while regulating pain. In both emotion and pain paradigms, the amygdala reflected regulatory success. Notably, we found that greater emotion regulation success was associated with greater change of amygdalar activity following pain regulation. Furthermore, individual differences in degree of amygdalar change following emotion regulation were a strong predictor of pain regulation success, as well as of the degree of amygdalar engagement following pain regulation. These findings suggest that common individual differences in emotion and pain regulatory success are reflected in a neural structure known to contribute to appraisal processes.
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This article presents an overview of the author's recent electrophysiological studies of anterior cerebral asymmetries related to emotion and affective style. A theoretical account is provided of the role of the two hemispheres in emotional processing. This account assigns a major role in approach- and withdrawal-related behavior to the left and right frontal and anterior temporal regions of two hemispheres, respectively. Individual differences in approach- and withdrawal-related emotional reactivity and temperament are associated with stable differences in baseline measures of activation asymmetry in these anterior regions. Phasic state changes in emotion result in shifts in anterior activation asymmetry which are superimposed upon these stable baseline differences. Future directions for research in this area are discussed.
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The authors examined the hypothesis that rhesus monkeys with extreme right frontal electroencephalographic activity would have higher cortisol levels and would be more fearful compared with monkeys with extreme left frontal activity. The authors first showed that individual differences in asymmetric frontal electrical activity are a stable characteristic. Next, the authors demonstrated that relative right asymmetric frontal activity and cortisol levels are correlated in animals 1 year of age. Additionally, extreme right frontal animals had elevated cortisol concentrations and more intense defensive responses. At 3 years of age, extreme right frontal animals continued to have elevated cortisol concentrations. These findings demonstrate important relations among extreme asymmetric frontal electrical activity, cortisol levels, and trait-like fear-related behaviors in young rhesus monkeys.
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Thirty-two participants were tested for both resting electroencephalography (EEG) and neuropsychological function. Eight one-minute trials of resting EEG were recorded from 14 channels referenced to linked ears, which was rederived to an average reference. Neuropsychological tasks included Verbal Fluency, the Tower of London, and Corsi's Recurring Blocks. Asymmetries in EEG alpha activity were correlated with performance on these tasks. Similar patterns were obtained for delta and theta bands. Factor analyses of resting EEG asymmetries over particular regions suggested that asymmetries over anterior scalp regions may be partly independent from those over posterior scalp regions. These results support the notions that resting EEG asymmetries are specified by multiple mechanisms along the rostral/caudal plane, and that these asymmetries predict task performance in a manner consistent with lesion and neuroimaging studies.
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In keeping with cognitive appraisal models of emotion, it was hypothesized that sadness and anger would exert different influences on causal judgments. Two experiments provided initial support for this hypothesis. Sad Ss perceived situationally caused events as more likely (Experiment 1) and situational forces more responsible for an ambiguous event (Experiment 2) than angry Ss, who, in contrast, perceived events caused by humans as more likely and other people as more responsible. Experiments 3, 4, and 5 showed that the experience of these emotions, rather than their cognitive constituents, mediates these effects. The nonemotional exposure to situational or human agency information did not influence causal judgments (Experiment 3), whereas the induction of sadness and anger without explicit agency information did (Experiments 4 and 5). Discussion is focused on the influence of emotion on social judgment.
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Biological systems are particularly prone to variation, and the authors argue that such variation must be regarded as important data in its own right. The authors describe a method in which individual differences are studied within the framework of a general theory of the population as a whole and illustrate how this method can be used to address three types of issues: the nature of the mechanisms that give rise to a specific ability, such as mental imagery; the role of psychological or biological mediators of environmental challenges, such as the biological bases for differences in dispositional mood; and the existence of processes that have nonadditive effects with behavioral and physiological variables, such as factors that modulate the response to stress and its effects on the immune response.
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Individual variation in the experience and expression of pleasure may relate to differential patterns of lateral frontal activity. Brain electrical measures have been used to study the asymmetric involvement of lateral frontal cortex in positive emotion, but the excellent time resolution of these measures has not been used to capture second-by-second changes in ongoing emotion until now. The relationship between pleasure and second-by-second lateral frontal activity was examined with the use of hierarchical linear modeling in a sample of 128 children ages 6-10 years. Electroencephalographic activity was recorded during "pop-out toy," a standardized task that elicits pleasure. The task consisted of 3 epochs: an anticipation period sandwiched between 2 play periods. The amount of pleasure expressed during the task predicted the pattern of nonlinear change in lateral frontal activity. Children who expressed increasing amounts of pleasure during the task exhibited increasing left lateral frontal activity during the task, whereas children who expressed contentment exhibited increasing right/decreasing left activity. These findings indicate that task-dependent changes in pleasure relate to dynamic, nonlinear changes in lateral frontal activity as the task unfolds.
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We recently reported the presence of reliable asymmetries in frontal-brain electrical activity in infants that distinguished between certain positive- and negative-affect elicitors. In order to explore the degree to which these asymmetries in brain activity are associated with individual differences in affective response, 35 ten-month-old female infants were presented with a stranger-approach, mother-approach, and maternal-separation experience while an electroencephalogram (EEG) from the left- and right-frontal and left- and right-parietal scalp regions was recorded and facial and other behavioral responses were videotaped. Changes in frontal-EEG asymmetry reflected behavioral changes between conditions. In addition, individual differences in affective response to separation were related to differences in frontal-brain asymmetries. These findings indicate that lawful changes exist in asymmetries of frontal-brain activation during the expression of certain emotions in the first year of life and that individual differences in emotional responsivity are related to these measures of brain activity.
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We assessed whether resting anterior asymmetry would discriminate individual differences in repressive-defensive coping styles. In 2 sessions, resting electroencephalogram was recorded from female adults during 8 60-s baselines. Subjects were classified as repressors or nonrepressors on the basis of scores on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MC), the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). In midfrontal and lateral frontal sites, repressors demonstrated relative left hemisphere activation when compared with other groups. The MC, but not the STAI or the BDI, contributed unique variance to frontal asymmetry. Relative left frontal activation may be linked to a self-enhancing regulatory style that promotes lowered risk for psychopathology.
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Individuals differ dramatically in the quality and intensity of their response to affectively evocative stimuli. On the basis of prior theory and research, we hypothesized that these individual differences are related to variation in activation of the left and right frontal brain regions. We recorded baseline brain electrical activity from subjects on two occasions 3 weeks apart. Immediately following the second recording, subjects were exposed to brief positive and negative emotional film clips. For subjects whose frontal asymmetry was stable across the 3-week period, greater left frontal activation was associated with reports of more intense positive affect in response to the positive films, whereas greater right frontal activation was associated with more intense reports of negative affect in response to the negative film clips. The methodological and theoretical implications of these data are discussed.
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Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in using neural oscillations to characterize the mechanisms supporting cognition and emotion. Oftentimes, oscillatory activity is indexed by mean power density in predefined frequency bands. Some investigators use broad bands originally defined by prominent surface features of the spectrum. Others rely on narrower bands originally defined by spectral factor analysis (SFA). Presently, the robustness and sensitivity of these competing band definitions remains unclear. Here, a Monte Carlo-based SFA strategy was used to decompose the tonic ("resting" or "spontaneous") electroencephalogram (EEG) into five bands: delta (1-5Hz), alpha-low (6-9Hz), alpha-high (10-11Hz), beta (12-19Hz), and gamma (>21Hz). This pattern was consistent across SFA methods, artifact correction/rejection procedures, scalp regions, and samples. Subsequent analyses revealed that SFA failed to deliver enhanced sensitivity; narrow alpha sub-bands proved no more sensitive than the classical broadband to individual differences in temperament or mean differences in task-induced activation. Other analyses suggested that residual ocular and muscular artifact was the dominant source of activity during quiescence in the delta and gamma bands. This was observed following threshold-based artifact rejection or independent component analysis (ICA)-based artifact correction, indicating that such procedures do not necessarily confer adequate protection. Collectively, these findings highlight the limitations of several commonly used EEG procedures and underscore the necessity of routinely performing exploratory data analyses, particularly data visualization, prior to hypothesis testing. They also suggest the potential benefits of using techniques other than SFA for interrogating high-dimensional EEG datasets in the frequency or time-frequency (event-related spectral perturbation, event-related synchronization/desynchronization) domains.
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Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined whether individual differences in amygdala activation in response to negative relative to neutral information are related to differences in the speed with which such information is evaluated, the extent to which such differences are associated with medial prefrontal cortex function, and their relationship with measures of trait anxiety and psychological well-being (PWB). Results indicated that faster judgments of negative relative to neutral information were associated with increased left and right amygdala activation. In the prefrontal cortex, faster judgment time was associated with relative decreased activation in a cluster in the ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, BA 24). Furthermore, people who were slower to evaluate negative versus neutral information reported higher PWB. Importantly, higher PWB was strongly associated with increased activation in the ventral ACC for negative relative to neutral information. Individual differences in trait anxiety did not predict variation in judgment time or in amygdala or ventral ACC activity. These findings suggest that people high in PWB effectively recruit the ventral ACC when confronted with potentially aversive stimuli, manifest reduced activity in subcortical regions such as the amygdala, and appraise such information as less salient as reflected in slower evaluative speed.
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This research assessed whether individual differences in anterior brain asymmetry are linked to differences in basic dimensions of emotion. In each of 2 experimental sessions, separated by 3 weeks, resting electroencephalogram (EEG) activity was recorded from female adults during 8 60-s baselines. Mean alpha power asymmetry across both sessions was extracted in mid-frontal and anterior temporal sites. Across both regions, groups demonstrating stable and extreme relative left anterior activation reported increased generalized positive affect (PA) and decreased generalized negative affect (NA) compared with groups demonstrating stable and extreme relative right anterior activation. Additional correlational analyses revealed robust relations between anterior asymmetry and PA and NA, particularly among subjects who demonstrated stable patterns of EEG activation over time. Anterior asymmetry was unrelated to individual differences in generalized reactivity.
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Freezing is an adaptive defensive behavior that is expressed in response to an imminent threat. In prior studies with rhesus monkeys, stable individual differences in animals' propensities to freeze have been demonstrated. To understand the factors associated with these individual differences, freezing behavior was examined in infant rhesus monkeys and their mothers, in conjunction with levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. In both mothers and infants, basal cortisol levels were positively correlated with freezing duration. Additionally, the number of offspring a mother had was negatively correlated with her infant's cortisol level. These findings suggest a link between basal cortisol levels and an animal's propensity to freeze, as well as a mechanism by which maternal experience may affect infants' cortisol levels.
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Reliable individual differences in electrophysiological measures of prefrontal activation asymmetry exist and predict dispositional mood and other psychological and biological indices of affective style. Subjects with greater relative right-sided activation report more dispositional negative affect and react with greater intensity to negative emotional challenges than their left-activated counterparts. We previously established that such individual differences in measures of prefrontal activation asymmetry were related to basal NK function, with left-activated subjects exhibiting higher levels of NK function than right-activated subjects. The present study was designed to replicate and extend these earlier findings. Subjects were tested in five experimental sessions over the course of 1 year. During the first two sessions, baseline measures of brain electrical activity were obtained to derive indices of asymmetric activation. During sessions 3 and 4, blood samples were taken during a nonstressful period in the semester and then 24 h prior to the subjects' most important final examination. During session 5, subjects were presented with positive and negative film clips 30 min in duration. Blood samples were obtained before and after the film clips. Subjects with greater relative right-sided activation at baseline showed lower levels of basal NK function. They also showed a greater decrease in NK function during the final exam period compared to the baseline period. Subjects with greater relative left-sided activation showed a larger increase in NK function from before to after the positive film clip. These findings indicate that individual differences in electrophysiological measures of asymmetric prefrontal activation account for a significant portion of variance in both basal levels of, and change in NK function.
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Prior studies assessing the relation between negative affective traits and cortisol have yielded inconsistent results. Two studies assessed the relation between individual differences in repressive-defensiveness and basal salivary cortisol levels. Experiment 1 assessed midafternoon salivary cortisol levels in men classified as repressors, high-anxious, or low-anxious. In Experiment 2, more rigorous controls were applied as salivary cortisol levels in women and men were assessed at 3 times of day on 3 separate days. In both studies, as hypothesized, repressors and high-anxious participants demonstrated higher basal cortisol levels than low-anxious participants. These findings suggest that both heightened distress and the inhibition of distress may be independently linked to relative elevations in cortisol. Also discussed is the possible mediational role of individual differences in responsivity to, or mobilization for, uncertainty or change.
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The present study investigated the premise that individual differences in autonomic physiology could be used to specify the nature and consequences of information processing taking place in medial prefrontal regions during cognitive reappraisal of unpleasant pictures. Neural (blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging) and autonomic (electrodermal [EDA], pupil diameter, cardiac acceleration) signals were recorded simultaneously as twenty-six older people (ages 64-66 years) used reappraisal to increase, maintain, or decrease their responses to unpleasant pictures. EDA was higher when increasing and lower when decreasing compared to maintaining. This suggested modulation of emotional arousal by reappraisal. By contrast, pupil diameter and cardiac acceleration were higher when increasing and decreasing compared to maintaining. This suggested modulation of cognitive demand. Importantly, reappraisal-related activation (increase, decrease>maintain) in two medial prefrontal regions (dorsal medial frontal gyrus and dorsal cingulate gyrus) was correlated with greater cardiac acceleration (increase, decrease>maintain) and monotonic changes in EDA (increase>maintain>decrease). These data indicate that these two medial prefrontal regions are involved in the allocation of cognitive resources to regulate unpleasant emotion, and that they modulate emotional arousal in accordance with the regulatory goal. The emotional arousal effects were mediated by the right amygdala. Reappraisal-related activation in a third medial prefrontal region (subgenual anterior cingulate cortex) was not associated with similar patterns of change in any of the autonomic measures, thus highlighting regional specificity in the degree to which cognitive demand is reflected in medial prefrontal activation during reappraisal.
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Based on previous findings in humans and rhesus monkeys suggesting that diazepam has asymmetrical effects on frontal lobe activity and other literature supporting a role for the benzodiazepine system in the mediation of individual differences in anxiety and fearfulness, the relation between asymmetrical changes in scalp-recorded regional brain activity in response to diazepam and the temperamental dimension of behavioral inhibition indexed by freezing time in 9 rhesus monkeys was examined. Animals showed greater relative left-sided frontal activation in response to diazepam compared with the preceding baseline. The magnitude of this shift was strongly correlated with an aggregate measure of freezing time (r = .82). The implications of these findings for understanding the role of regional differences in the benzodiazepine system in mediating individual differences in fearfulness are discussed.
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An extensive body of research defines the default-mode network (DMN) to be one of the critical networks of the human brain, playing a pivotal functional role in processes of internal mentation. Alterations in the connectivity of this network as a function of aging have been found, with reductions associated with functional ramifications for the elderly population. This study examined associations between integrity of the DMN and trait levels of mindfulness disposition, defined by our ability to exert attentional and emotional control in the present moment, and, thereby, bring awareness to immediate experiences. Twenty-five older adults participated in the study and underwent a brief functional magnetic resonance imaging session and filled out questionnaires related to their overall health and mindfulness disposition. Mindfulness disposition was associated with greater connectivity of the DMN, specifically, in the dorsal posterior cingulate cortex and the precuneus. Mindfulness disposition, thus, explains variance in the connectivity of one of the more intrinsic networks of the human brain, known to be critical for promoting self-relevant mental explorations and building cognitive and affective control.

Emotions can color people’s attitudes toward unrelated objects in the environment. Existing evidence suggests that such emotional coloring is particularly strong when emotion-triggering information escapes conscious awareness. But is emotional reactivity stronger after nonconscious emotional provocation than after conscious emotional provocation, or does conscious processing specifically change the association between emotional reactivity and evaluations of unrelated objects? In this study, we independently indexed emotional reactivity and coloring as a function of emotional-stimulus awareness to disentangle these accounts. Specifically, we recorded skin-conductance responses to spiders and fearful faces, along with subsequent preferences for novel neutral faces during visually aware and unaware states. Fearful faces increased skin-conductance responses comparably in both stimulus-aware and stimulus-unaware conditions. Yet only when visual awareness was precluded did skin-conductance responses to fearful faces predict decreased likability of neutral faces. These findings suggest a regulatory role for conscious awareness in breaking otherwise automatic associations between physiological reactivity and evaluative emotional responses.
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Tasks that tax working memory (WM) have consistently been found to decrease mind wandering. These findings may indicate that maintenance of mind wandering requires WM resources, such that mind wandering cannot persist when WM resources are being consumed by a task. An alternative explanation for these findings, however, is that mind wandering persists without the support of WM but is nonetheless decreased during any demanding task because good task performance requires that attention be restricted from task-unrelated thought (TUT). The present study tested these two competing theories by investigating whether individuals with greater WM resources mind-wander more during an undemanding task, as would be predicted only by the theory that WM supports TUT. We found that individuals with higher WM capacity reported more TUT in undemanding tasks, which suggests that WM enables the maintenance of mind wandering.
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We examined whether resting anterior electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry in the alpha frequency band has psychometric properties that would be expected of a measure assessing individual differences. In each of two experimental sessions, separated by three weeks, resting EEG in midfrontal and anterior temporal sites was recorded from 85 female adults during eight 60-s baselines. Resting alpha asymmetry demonstrated acceptable test-retest stability and excellent internal consistency reliability. Analyses including other frequency bands indicated that degree of stability varied somewhat as a function of band and region. In addition, asymmetry was less stable than absolute power. Discussion focuses on the implications of the present findings for the measurement and conceptualization of resting anterior asymmetry.
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This study, based on a sample of 172 children, examined the relation between average afternoon salivary cortisol levels measured at home at age 4.5 years and socioemotional adjustment a year and a half later, as reported by mothers, fathers, and teachers. Cortisol levels were hypothesized to be positively associated with withdrawal-type behaviors (e.g., internalizing, social wariness) and inversely related to approach-type behaviors, both negative and positive (e.g., externalizing, school engagement). Higher cortisol levels at age 4.5 predicted more internalizing behavior and social wariness as reported by teachers and mothers, although child gender moderated the relation between cortisol and mother report measures. An inverse relation was found between boys' cortisol levels and father report of externalizing behavior. A marginal inverse relation was found between child cortisol levels and teacher report of school engagement. Behavior assessed concurrently with cortisol collection did not account for the prospective relations observed,suggesting that cortisol adds uniquely to an understanding of behavioral development.
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