Article

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

ABSTRACT

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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    • "Thus, several other factors are likely to play a mediational role in this relationship. As previously mentioned, neuroscientific evidence (e.g.,Wagner & Heatherton, 2013) indicates that self-control depletion is associated with cerebral activation patterns in the anterior cingulate cortex, basal ganglia, lateral prefrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. Furthermore, research has shown that following self-control depletion, via cognitive task performance, neuromuscular perturbations are seen that are reflective of muscle fatigue (Bray et al., 2008;Graham et al., 2014;Pageaux, Marcora, Rozand, & Lepers, 2015). "
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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).
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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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