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Studies on aging and emotion suggest an increase in reported positive affect, a processing bias of positive over negative information, as well as increasingly adaptive regulation in response to negative events with advancing age. These findings imply that older individuals evaluate information differently, resulting in lowered reactivity to, and/or faster recovery from, negative information, while maintaining more positive responding to positive information. We examined this hypothesis in an ongoing study on Midlife in the US (MIDUS II) where emotional reactivity and recovery were assessed in a large number of respondents (N = 159) from a wide age range (36-84 years). We recorded eye-blink startle magnitudes and corrugator activity during and after the presentation of positive, neutral and negative pictures. The most robust age effect was found in response to neutral stimuli, where increasing age is associated with a decreased corrugator and eyeblink startle response to neutral stimuli. These data suggest that an age-related positivity effect does not essentially alter the response to emotion-laden information, but is reflected in a more positive interpretation of affectively ambiguous information. Furthermore, older women showed reduced corrugator recovery from negative pictures relative to the younger women and men, suggesting that an age-related prioritization of well-being is not necessarily reflected in adaptive regulation of negative affect.

Studies on aging and emotion suggest an increase in reported positive affect, a processing bias of positive over negative information, as well as increasingly adaptive regulation in response to negative events with advancing age. These findings imply that older individuals evaluate information differently, resulting in lowered reactivity to, and/or faster recovery from, negative information, while maintaining more positive responding to positive information. We examined this hypothesis in an ongoing study on Midlife in the US (MIDUS II) where emotional reactivity and recovery were assessed in a large number of respondents (N = 159) from a wide age range (36-84 years). We recorded eye-blink startle magnitudes and corrugator activity during and after the presentation of positive, neutral and negative pictures. The most robust age effect was found in response to neutral stimuli, where increasing age is associated with a decreased corrugator and eyeblink startle response to neutral stimuli. These data suggest that an age-related positivity effect does not essentially alter the response to emotion-laden information, but is reflected in a more positive interpretation of affectively ambiguous information. Furthermore, older women showed reduced corrugator recovery from negative pictures relative to the younger women and men, suggesting that an age-related prioritization of well-being is not necessarily reflected in adaptive regulation of negative affect.
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Among younger adults, the ability to willfully regulate negative affect, enabling effective responses to stressful experiences, engages regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala. Because regions of PFC and the amygdala are known to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, here we test whether PFC and amygdala responses during emotion regulation predict the diurnal pattern of salivary cortisol secretion. We also test whether PFC and amygdala regions are engaged during emotion regulation in older (62- to 64-year-old) rather than younger individuals. We measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging as participants regulated (increased or decreased) their affective responses or attended to negative picture stimuli. We also collected saliva samples for 1 week at home for cortisol assay. Consistent with previous work in younger samples, increasing negative affect resulted in ventral lateral, dorsolateral, and dorsomedial regions of PFC and amygdala activation. In contrast to previous work, decreasing negative affect did not produce the predicted robust pattern of higher PFC and lower amygdala activation. Individuals demonstrating the predicted effect (decrease < attend in the amygdala), however, exhibited higher signal in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) for the same contrast. Furthermore, participants displaying higher VMPFC and lower amygdala signal when decreasing compared with the attention control condition evidenced steeper, more normative declines in cortisol over the course of the day. Individual differences yielded the predicted link between brain function while reducing negative affect in the laboratory and diurnal regulation of endocrine activity in the home environment.
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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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Greater levels of conscientiousness have been associated with lower levels of negative affect. We focus on one mechanism through which conscientiousness may decrease negative affect: effective emotion regulation, as reflected by greater recovery from negative stimuli. In 273 adults who were 35-85 years old, we collected self-report measures of personality including conscientiousness and its self-control facet, followed on average 2 years later by psychophysiological measures of emotional reactivity and recovery. Among middle-aged adults (35-65 years old), the measures of conscientiousness and self-control predicted greater recovery from, but not reactivity to, negative emotional stimuli. The effect of conscientiousness and self-control on recovery was not driven by other personality variables or by greater task adherence on the part of high conscientiousness individuals. In addition, the effect was specific to negative emotional stimuli and did not hold for neutral or positive emotional stimuli.
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OBJECTIVE: High-density EEG recording offers increased spatial resolution but requires careful consideration of how the density of electrodes affects the potentials being measured. Power differences as a function of electrode density and electrolyte spreading were examined and a method for correcting these differences was tested. METHODS: Separate EEG recordings from 8 participants were made using a high-density electrode net, first with 6 of 128 electrodes active followed by recordings with all electrodes active. For a subset of 4 participants measurements were counterbalanced with recordings made in the reversed order by drying the hair after the high-density recordings and using a fresh dry electrode net of the same size for the low-density recordings. Mean power values over 6 resting eyes open/closed EEG recordings at the 6 active electrodes common to both recording conditions were compared. Evidence for possible electrolyte spreading or bridging between electrodes was acquired by computing Hjorth electrical distances. Spherical spline interpolation was tested for correcting power values at electrodes affected by electrolyte spreading for these participants and for a subset of participants from a larger previous study. RESULTS: For both the complete set and the counterbalanced subset, significant decreases in power at the 6 common electrodes for the high-density recordings were observed across the range of the standard EEG bands (1-44 Hz). The number of bridges or amount of electrolyte spreading towards the reference electrode as evidenced by small Hjorth electrical distances served as a predictor of this power decrease. Spherical spline interpolation increased the power values at electrodes affected by electrolyte spreading and by a significant amount for the larger number of participants in the second group. CONCLUSIONS: Understanding signal effects caused by closely spaced electrodes, detecting electrolyte spreading and correcting its effects are important considerations for high-density EEG recordings. A combination of scalp maps of power density and plots of small Hjorth electrical distances can be used to identify electrodes affected by electrolyte spreading. Interpolation using spherical splines offers a method for correcting the potentials measured at these electrodes.
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Although depressed mood is a normal occurrence in response to adversity in all individuals, what distinguishes those who are vulnerable to major depressive disorder (MDD) is their inability to effectively regulate negative mood when it arises. Investigating the neural underpinnings of adaptive emotion regulation and the extent to which such processes are compromised in MDD may be helpful in understanding the pathophysiology of depression. We report results from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study demonstrating left-lateralized activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when downregulating negative affect in nondepressed individuals, whereas depressed individuals showed bilateral PFC activation. Furthermore, during an effortful affective reappraisal task, nondepressed individuals showed an inverse relationship between activation in left ventrolateral PFC and the amygdala that is mediated by the ventromedial PFC (VMPFC). No such relationship was found for depressed individuals, who instead show a positive association between VMPFC and amygdala. Pupil dilation data suggest that those depressed patients who expend more effort to reappraise negative stimuli are characterized by accentuated activation in the amygdala, insula, and thalamus, whereas nondepressed individuals exhibit the opposite pattern. These findings indicate that a key feature underlying the pathophysiology of major depression is the counterproductive engagement of right prefrontal cortex and the lack of engagement of left lateral-ventromedial prefrontal circuitry important for the downregulation of amygdala responses to negative stimuli.
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Recent studies have identified a distributed network of brain regions thought to support cognitive reappraisal processes underlying emotion regulation in response to affective images, including parieto-temporal regions and lateral/medial regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC). A number of these commonly activated regions are also known to underlie visuospatial attention and oculomotor control, which raises the possibility that people use attentional redeployment rather than, or in addition to, reappraisal as a strategy to regulate emotion. We predicted that a significant portion of the observed variance in brain activation during emotion regulation tasks would be associated with differences in how participants visually scan the images while regulating their emotions. We recorded brain activation using fMRI and quantified patterns of gaze fixation while participants increased or decreased their affective response to a set of affective images. fMRI results replicated previous findings on emotion regulation with regulation differences reflected in regions of PFC and the amygdala. In addition, our gaze fixation data revealed that when regulating, individuals changed their gaze patterns relative to a control condition. Furthermore, this variation in gaze fixation accounted for substantial amounts of variance in brain activation. These data point to the importance of controlling for gaze fixation in studies of emotion regulation that use visual stimuli.
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We present a new subcortical structure shape modeling framework using heat kernel smoothing constructed with the Laplace-Beltrami eigenfunctions. The cotan discretization is used to numerically obtain the eigenfunctions of the Laplace-Beltrami operator along the surface of subcortical structures of the brain. The eigenfunctions are then used to construct the heat kernel and used in smoothing out measurements noise along the surface. The proposed framework is applied in investigating the influence of age (38-79 years) and gender on amygdala and hippocampus shape. We detected a significant age effect on hippocampus in accordance with the previous studies. In addition, we also detected a significant gender effect on amygdala. Since we did not find any such differences in the traditional volumetric methods, our results demonstrate the benefit of the current framework over traditional volumetric methods.
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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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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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Marital stress is associated with a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders, in particular major depression. One pathway through which marital stress may impact emotional health is by compromising emotion-responding processes. We examined a longitudinal sample of adults (N = 116; 59 males; 39-84 years) to verify how marital stress predicts reactivity to, and recovery from, emotional provocation. Individuals watched positive, neutral, and negative pictures while an objective measure of affective state, corrugator supercilii muscle activity, was recorded continuously. Our results indicate that marital stress is associated with short-lived responses to positive pictures, indexed by a less persistent decrease in corrugator activity after picture offset. Extending beyond the prior focus on negative emotional processes, these results suggest that social stress may impact health by influencing the time course of responding to positive events.
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Purpose in life predicts both health and longevity suggesting that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting life’s challenges, may be a mechanism underlying resilience. Having purpose in life may motivate reframing stressful situations to deal with them more productively, thereby facilitating recovery from stress and trauma. In turn, enhanced ability to recover from negative events may allow a person to achieve or maintain a feeling of greater purpose in life over time. In a large sample of adults (aged 36-84 years) from the MIDUS study (Midlife in the U.S., http://www.midus.wisc.edu/), we tested whether purpose in life was associated with better emotional recovery following exposure to negative picture stimuli indexed by the magnitude of the eyeblink startle reflex (EBR), a measure sensitive to emotional state. We differentiated between initial emotional reactivity (during stimulus presentation) and emotional recovery (occurring after stimulus offset). Greater purpose in life, assessed over two years prior, predicted better recovery from negative stimuli indexed by a smaller eyeblink after negative pictures offset, even after controlling for initial reactivity to the stimuli during the picture presentation, gender, age, trait affect, and other well-being dimensions. These data suggest a proximal mechanism by which purpose in life may afford protection from negative events and confer resilience is through enhanced automatic emotion regulation after negative emotional provocation.
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Eudaimonic well-being—a sense of purpose, meaning, and engagement with life—is protective against psychopathology and predicts physical health, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Although it has been suggested that the ability to engage the neural circuitry of reward may promote well-being and mediate the relationship between well-being and health, this hypothesis has remained untested. To test this hypothesis, we had participants view positive, neutral, and negative images while fMRI data were collected. Individuals with sustained activity in the striatum and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to positive stimuli over the course of the scan session reported greater well-being and had lower cortisol output. This suggests that sustained engagement of reward circuitry in response to positive events underlies well-being and adaptive regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
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An individual's affective style is influenced by many things, including the manner in which an individual responds to an emotional challenge. Emotional response is composed of a number of factors, two of which are the initial reactivity to an emotional stimulus and the subsequent recovery once the stimulus terminates or ceases to be relevant. However, most neuroimaging studies examining emotional processing in humans focus on the magnitude of initial reactivity to a stimulus rather than the prolonged response. In this study, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the time course of amygdala activity in healthy adults in response to presentation of negative images. We split the amygdala time course into an initial reactivity period and a recovery period beginning after the offset of the stimulus. We find that initial reactivity in the amygdala does not predict trait measures of affective style. Conversely, amygdala recovery shows predictive power such that slower amygdala recovery from negative images predicts greater trait neuroticism, in addition to lower levels of likability of a set of social stimuli (neutral faces). These data underscore the importance of taking into account temporal dynamics when studying affective processing using neuroimaging.
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The human voice is one of the principal conveyers of social and affective communication. Yet relatively little is known about the neural circuitry that supports the recognition of different vocally expressed emotions. We conducted an FMRI study to examine the brain responses to vocal expressions of anger and happiness, and to test whether specific brain regions showed preferential engagement in the processing of one emotion over the other. We also tested the extent to which simultaneously presented facial expressions of the same or different emotions would enhance brain responses, and to what degree such responses depend on attention towards the vocal expression. Forty healthy individuals were scanned while listening to vocal expressions of anger or happiness, while at the same time watching congruent or discrepant facial expressions. Happy voices elicited significantly more activation than angry voices in right anterior and posterior middle temporal gyrus (MTG), left posterior MTG and right inferior frontal gyrus. Furthermore, for the left MTG region, happy voices were related to higher activation only when paired with happy faces. Activation in the left insula, left amygdala and hippocampus, and rostral anterior cingulate cortex showed an effect of selectively attending to the vocal stimuli. Our results identify a network of regions implicated in the processing of vocal emotion, and suggest a particularly salient role for vocal expressions of happiness.
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