Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 1, pp 211–222 | Cite as

Cognitive load and emotional processing in psoriasis: a thermal imaging study

  • Maria Serena PanasitiEmail author
  • Giorgia Ponsi
  • Bianca Monachesi
  • Luigi Lorenzini
  • Vincenzo Panasiti
  • Salvatore Maria Aglioti
Research Article


Psoriasis is a chronic dermatologic disease which is frequently associated with psychological distress. Although studies suggest a relationship between this condition and difficulties in emotion regulation, behavioral and physiological evidence about this link is scarce. We measured implicit emotion regulation abilities of psoriasis patients and a healthy control group by examining the impact of distracting emotional (positive, negative or neutral) images on a working memory task (“Emotional N-Back”) which could present high (2-back) or low (1-back) cognitive workload. Moreover, we used Functional Infrared Thermal Imaging to record participants’ facial temperature and obtain a measure of the activation of the autonomic system. Rising of temperature over the peri-orbital areas and the nose tip are believed to reflect the activation and the de-activation of the sympathetic system, respectively. Patients scored higher than controls on the “Lack of emotional clarity” sub-scale of the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale. Compared to controls, who performed much better in the low vs. high cognitive load condition, patients showed a smaller accuracy difference between the two conditions. Moreover, patients showed less sympathetic (lower peri-orbital and higher nasal tip temperature) activity (especially in the negative and neutral blocks) during the high vs. low cognitive load condition, suggesting that the former condition might be less emotionally demanding for them. Patients benefit more than controls from the load-dependent interference effect when dealing with emotional information; thus, therapeutic techniques aiming at teaching how to use cognitive strategies to downregulate emotions might be particularly appropriated for them.


Psoriasis Emotion regulation Thermal imaging Working memory Cognitive load 



We are very thankful to the participants who took part to the study.


This study was funded by the PRIN Grant (Progetti di Ricerca di Rilevante Interesse Nazionale, Edit. 2015, Prot. 20159CZFJK), by the ERC Advanced Grant eHONESTY (Prot. 789058) awarded to SMA and by a Sapienza University Grant (Avvio alla Ricerca 2016, Prot. AR216154C9905620) awarded to MSP.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

221_2018_5416_MOESM1_ESM.docx (832 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 832 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Serena Panasiti
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Giorgia Ponsi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bianca Monachesi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luigi Lorenzini
    • 1
    • 2
  • Vincenzo Panasiti
    • 3
  • Salvatore Maria Aglioti
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  2. 2.IRCCS Santa Lucia FoundationRomeItaly
  3. 3.Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery UnitCampus Bio-Medico University of RomeRomeItaly

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