Amygdala response and functional connectivity during cognitive emotion regulation of aversive image sequences

  • Pegah SarkheilEmail author
  • Martin Klasen
  • Frank Schneider
  • Rainer Goebel
  • Klaus Mathiak
Original Paper


Emotion regulation (ER) is crucial in terms of mental health and social functioning. Attention deployment (AD) and cognitive reappraisal (CR) are both efficient cognitive ER strategies, which are based on partially dissociated neural effects. Our understanding of the neural underpinnings of ER is based on laboratory paradigms that study changes of the brain activation related to isolated emotional stimuli. To track the neural response to ER in the changing and dynamic environment of daily life, we extended the common existing paradigms by applying a sequence of emotionally provocative stimuli involving three aversive images. Eighteen participants completed an ER paradigm, in which they had to either shift their attention away from the emotionally negative images by counting backwards (AD strategy) or reinterpret the meaning of stimuli (CR strategy) to attain a down-regulation of affective responses. An increased recruitment of left-sided lateral and medial PFC was shown upon regulation of negative emotions with CR as compared to AD. Remarkably, the amygdala activation showed an increasing pattern of activation during CR. The inverse relationship between PFC and amygdala was compromised during elongated blocks of reappraisal, reflecting a reduction in engagement of the top-down prefrontal regulatory circuitry upon repeated exposure to negative stimuli. These results highlight that temporal dynamic of amygdala response and its functional connectivity differentiates AD and CR strategies in regulating emotions. Findings of the current study underscore the importance of adopting temporally variant approaches for investigating the neural effects of ER. Identifying neural systems that subserve down-regulation of negative emotions is of importance in developing treatment strategies for various forms of psychopathology.


Emotion regulation Cognitive reappraisal Attention deployment Amygdala Functional connectivity 



We would like to acknowledge the support of the BrainGain Program of the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. KM is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG; IRTG 2150, MA2631/4 − 1) and the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF; APIC: 01EE1405A, 01EE1405B, 02EE1405C).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

406_2018_920_MOESM1_ESM.tif (48 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (TIF 48 KB)


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pegah Sarkheil
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Martin Klasen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Frank Schneider
    • 1
    • 3
  • Rainer Goebel
    • 2
  • Klaus Mathiak
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and PsychosomaticsFaculty of Medicin, RWTH AachenAachenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology and NeuroscienceMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.JARA - Translational Brain MedicineAachenGermany

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