Self-regulatory depletion increases emotional reactivity in the amygdala

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, 6207 Moore Hall, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. .
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 07/2012; 8(4). DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss082
Source: PubMed


The ability to self-regulate can become impaired when people are required to engage in successive acts of effortful self-control, even when self-control occurs in different domains. Here, we used functional neuroimaging to test whether engaging in effortful inhibition in the cognitive domain would lead to putative dysfunction in the emotional domain. Forty-eight participants viewed images of emotional scenes during functional magnetic resonance imaging in two sessions that were separated by a challenging attention control task that required effortful inhibition (depletion group) or not (control group). Compared to the control group, depleted participants showed increased activity in the left amygdala to negative but not to positive or neutral scenes. Moreover, whereas the control group showed reduced amygdala activity to all scene types (i.e. habituation), the depletion group showed increased amygdala activity relative to their pre-depletion baseline; however this was only significant for negative scenes. Finally, depleted participants showed reduced functional connectivity between the left amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex during negative scene processing. These findings demonstrate that consuming self-regulatory resources leads to an exaggerated neural response to emotional material that appears specific to negatively valenced stimuli and further suggests a failure to recruit top-down prefrontal regions involved in emotion regulation.

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    • "According to this view, one might expect that mental fatigue would increase emotion generation because of poor self-regulation. This would be consistent with the claim of increased amygdala reactivity to negative pictures after mental fatigue without explicit instructions to regulate emotion (Wagner & Heatherton, 2013). However, we did not observe any significant difference in startle potentiation to the negative pictures in the maintain condition of the depletion session compared with the control session. "
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    ABSTRACT: Because healthy physical and mental functioning depends on the ability to regulate emotions, it is important to identify moderators of such regulations. Whether mental fatigue, subsequent to the depletion of cognitive resources, impairs explicit emotion regulation to negative stimuli is currently unknown. This study explored this possibility. In a within-subject design over 2 separate sessions, healthy individuals performed easy (control session) or difficult (depletion session) cognitive tasks. Subsequently, they were presented with neutral and negative pictures, with instructions to either maintain or regulate (i.e., reduce) the emotions evoked by the pictures. Emotional reactivity was probed with the startle reflex. The negative pictures evoked a similar aversive state in the control and depletion sessions as measured by startle potentiation. However, subjects were able to down-regulate their aversive state only in the control session, not in the depletion session. These results indicate that mental fatigue following performance of cognitive tasks impairs emotion regulation without affecting emotional reactivity. These findings suggest that mental fatigue needs to be incorporated into models of emotion regulation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Emotion 02/2015; 15(3). DOI:10.1037/emo0000058 · 3.88 Impact Factor
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    • "Yet, this evidence, coupled with the finding that story valence did not moderate the effect of self-control depletion on any dependent variable, suggests that the rival explanation of emotional reactivity does not account for the effects of self-control depletion seen in the data. On the other hand, given evidence that emotional reactivity is an outcome of self-control depletion (Wagner & Heatherton, 2013), future work should reconcile its influence. "
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    ABSTRACT: This study tests propositions derived from the larger notion that entertainment narratives offer the individual a means by which to alleviate the psychological demands of the self. Specifically, individuals in a state of reduced self-control were expected to experience greater enjoyment, audience response, transportation, and identification during narrative exposure. After a manipulation that depleted self-control resources, participants were exposed to a short story. They then reported their enjoyment and response to the story, as well as their transportation and identification during reading. Results supported the predictions, as enjoyment, audience response, and transportation were significantly greater in the depleted group. Identification showed a nonsignificant difference. Additionally, transportation was found to be a mediator of self-control depletion’s effect on enjoyment. Subsequent analyses ruled out alternative mood management and emotion regulation explanations, demonstrating that depleted self-control resources, rather than affect or story valence, accounted for greater narrative engagement.
    Media Psychology 02/2015; in press(2). DOI:10.1080/15213269.2014.978872 · 1.40 Impact Factor
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    • "In this task, participants had to watch a 7-min nature documentary and inhibit their reading of words presented at the bottom of the screen. They found that this task resulted in a reduction in habituation as a response to emotional pictures observed in the amygdala compared with a control task (Wagner and Heatherton, 2013). Since habituation needs cognitive resources to occur, and since selfregulatory depletion already impedes habituation on the level of very basic brain processes, we posit that habituation while imagining food intake should decrease when individuals' self-regulatory resources are depleted. "
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    ABSTRACT: Research has shown that imagining food consumption leads to food-specific habituation effects. In the present research, we replicated these effects and further examined whether the depletion of self-regulatory resources would reduce the habituation effects of imagined food consumption. Since self-regulatory resources have been shown to reduce habituation effects during the perception of emotional stimuli, we expected a reduction in habituation effects from imagined food consumption when self-regulatory resources were depleted. In Study 1, we replicated habituation effects as a response to imagining gummy bear consumption with a high (36) and medium number (18) of repetitions in a camouflaged taste test. Participants imagining gummy bear intake showed decreased food intake compared with participants who imagined putting a coin into a laundry machine. The number of repetitions did not significantly moderate the observed habituation effect. In Study 2, we investigated whether self-regulatory depletion would impede habituation effects evoked by the imagination of walnut consumption. Participants in a depleted state did not show a reduction in food intake after imagining walnut intake compared with participants in a non-depleted state. We discuss directions for future research and processes that might underlie the observed moderating effect of self-regulatory resources.
    Frontiers in Psychology 11/2014; 5(1391). DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01391 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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