Conscious alteration of emotional processing

The Primordial Psyche

Mario Beauregard, University of Arizona
Journal of Consciousness Studies, 21, No. 7-8, 2014

Summary and review of the above paper

Orthodox theories are not successful in explaining the causal interaction between mental experiences and events in the brain. Since the year 2000, neuroimaging studies have shown that the activity of brain regions involved in emotional processing can be consciously and volitionally altered. This paper seeks to demonstrate the causal influence of such phenomena as thoughts, on the brain, and on subsequent behaviour. Thus beliefs, goals and expectations are seen as being related to behaviour.

The reappraisal of the meaning of an emotion-producing stimulus is seen as a cognitive strategy used to regulate emotion. In a study carried out by the author (Beauregard et al, 2001), volunteers were shown stimulating images. These images produced significant activation in the amygdala and the anterior temporal pole. However, when the subjects deliberately distanced themselves from the images, activity disappeared in these amygdala and temporal regions, but appeared instead in the lateral prefrontal and the anterior cingulate.

A similar outcome was achieved using saddening images. A variety of regions were active in the saddened condition, but when subjects distanced themselves that activity disappeared, but alternative activity was found in the orbitofrontal and the lateral prefrontal. Another study showed similar post-reappraisal activity in the lateral and the ventromedial prefrontal. The amygdala which can be stimulated by positive or negative emotions also showed reduced activity post-reappraisal. Conscious voluntary regulation of emotion is shown to be associated with the lateral prefrontal, orbitofrontal and the anterior cingulate regions of the brain.

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