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This article is part of the Research Topic Cognitive emotion regulation

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 24 March 2014 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00221

The common and distinct neural bases of affect labeling and reappraisal in healthy adults

  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • 2Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
  • 3Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • 4Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Emotion regulation is commonly characterized as involving conscious and intentional attempts to change felt emotions, such as, for example, through reappraisal whereby one intentionally decreases the intensity of one's emotional response to a particular stimulus or situation by reinterpreting it in a less threatening way. However, there is growing evidence and appreciation that some types of emotion regulation are unintentional or incidental, meaning that affective modulation is a consequence but not an explicit goal. For example, affect labeling involves simply verbally labeling the emotional content of an external stimulus or one's own affective responses without an intentional goal of altering emotional responses, yet has been associated with reduced affective responses at the neural and experiential levels. Although both intentional and incidental emotional regulation strategies have been associated with diminished limbic responses and self-reported distress, little previous research has directly compared their underlying neural mechanisms. In this study, we examined the extent to which incidental and intentional emotion regulation, namely, affect labeling and reappraisal, produced common and divergent neural and self-report responses to aversive images relative to an observe-only control condition in a sample of healthy older adults (N = 39). Affect labeling and reappraisal produced common activations in several prefrontal regulatory regions, with affect labeling producing stronger responses in direct comparisons. Affect labeling and reappraisal were also associated with similar decreases in amygdala activity. Finally, affect labeling and reappraisal were associated with correlated reductions in self-reported distress. Together these results point to common neurocognitive mechanisms involved in affect labeling and reappraisal, supporting the idea that intentional and incidental emotion regulation may utilize overlapping neural processes.

Keywords: affect labeling, reappraisal, emotion regulation, fMRI, amygdala, prefrontal cortex

Citation: Burklund LJ, Creswell JD, Irwin MR and Lieberman MD (2014) The common and distinct neural bases of affect labeling and reappraisal in healthy adults. Front. Psychol. 5:221. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00221

Received: 30 October 2013; Accepted: 26 February 2014;
Published online: 24 March 2014.

Edited by:

Raffael Kalisch, Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center Mainz, Germany

Reviewed by:

Kristin Prehn, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany
Heather Urry, Tufts University, USA

Copyright © 2014 Burklund, Creswell, Irwin and Lieberman. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Lisa J. Burklund, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA e-mail: burklund@ucla.edu