Differences between endogenous and exogenous emotion inhibition in the human brain

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Abstract

The regulation of emotions is an integral part of our mental health. It has only recently been investigated using brain imaging techniques. In most studies, participants are instructed by a cue to inhibit a specific emotional reaction. The aim of the present study was to investigate the alternative situation where a person decides to inhibit an emotion as an act of endogenous self-control. Healthy participants viewed highly arousing pictures with negative valence. In the endogenous condition, participants could freely choose on each trial to inhibit or feel the emotions elicited by the picture. In an exogenous condition, a visual cue instructed them to either feel or inhibit the emotion elicited by the picture. Participants’ subjective ratings of intensity of experienced emotion showed an interaction effect between source of control (endogenous/exogenous) and feel/inhibit based on a stronger modulation between feel and inhibition for the endogenous compared to the exogenous condition. Endogenous inhibition of emotions was associated with dorso-medial prefrontal cortex activation, whereas exogenous inhibition was found associated with lateral prefrontal cortex activation. Thus, the brain regions for both endogenous and exogenous inhibition of emotion are highly similar to those for inhibition of motor actions in Brass and Haggard (J Neurosci 27:9141–9145, 2007), Kühn et al. (Hum Brain Mapp 30:2834–2843, 2009). Functional connectivity analyses showed that dorsofrontomedial cortex exerts greater control onto pre-supplementary motor area during endogenous inhibition compared to endogenous feel. This functional dissociation between an endogenous, fronto-medial and an exogenous, fronto-lateral inhibition centre has important implications for our understanding of emotion regulation in health and psychopathology.