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Coping with Emotions Past: The Neural Bases of Regulating Affect Associated with Negative Autobiographical Memories

Published:December 08, 2008DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.10.019

      Background

      Although the ability to adaptively reflect on negative autobiographical experiences without ruminating is critical to mental health, to our knowledge no research has directly examined the neural systems underlying this process.

      Methods

      Sixteen participants were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they focused on negative autobiographical memories using cognitive strategies designed to facilitate (feel strategy) versus undermine (analyze and accept strategies) rumination.

      Results

      Two key findings were obtained. First, consistent with prior emotion regulation research using image-based stimuli, left prefrontal activity was observed during the implementation of all three strategies. Second, activity in a network of regions involved in self-referential processing and emotion, including subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex, was highest in response to the feel strategy and lowest for the accept strategy. This pattern of activation mirrored participants' self-reports of negative affect when engaging in each strategy.

      Conclusions

      These findings shed light on the brain regions that distinguish adaptive versus maladaptive forms of reflecting on negative autobiographical memories and offer a novel, ecologically valid route to exploring the neural bases of emotion regulation using fMRI.

      Key Words

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