Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Lesion and neuroimaging studies suggest the amygdala is important in the perception and production of negative emotion; however, the effects of emotion regulation on the amygdalar response to negative stimuli remain unknown. Using event-related fMRI, we tested the hypothesis that voluntary modulation of negative emotion is associated with changes in neural activity within the amygdala. Negative and neutral pictures were presented with instructions to either “maintain” the emotional response or “passively view” the picture without regulating the emotion. Each picture presentation was followed by a delay, after which subjects indicated how they currently felt via a response keypad. Consistent with previous reports, greater signal change was observed in the amygdala during the presentation of negative compared to neutral pictures. No significant effect of instruction was found during the picture presentation component of the trial. However, a prolonged increase in signal change was observed in the amygdala when subjects maintained the negative emotional response during the delay following negative picture offset. This increase in amygdalar signal due to the active maintenance of negative emotion was significantly correlated with subjects' self-reported dispositional levels of negative affect. These results suggest that consciously evoked cognitive mechanisms that alter the emotional response of the subject operate, at least in part, by altering the degree of neural activity within the amygdala.