When confronted with unwanted negative emotions, individuals use a variety of cognitive strategies for regulating these emotions. The brain mechanisms underlying these emotion regulation strategies have not been fully characterized, and it is not yet clear whether these mechanisms vary as a function of emotion intensity. To address these issues, 30 community participants (17 females, 13 males, Mage = 24.3 years) completed a picture-viewing emotion regulation task with neutral viewing, reacting to negative stimuli, cognitive reappraisal, attentional deployment, and self-distancing conditions. Brain and behavioral data were simultaneously collected in a 3T GE MRI scanner. Findings indicated that prefrontal regions were engaged by all three regulation strategies, but reappraisal showed the least amount of increase in activity as a function of intensity. Overall, these results suggest that there are both brain and behavioral effects of intensity and that intensity is useful for probing strategy-specific effects and the relationships between the strategies. Furthermore, while these three strategies showed significant overlap, there also were specific strategy-intensity interactions, such as frontoparietal control regions being preferentially activated by reappraisal and self-distancing. Conversely, self-referential and attentional regions were preferentially recruited by self-distancing and distraction as intensity increased. Overall, these findings are consistent with the notion that there is a continuum of cognitive emotion regulation along which all three of these strategies lie.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press Inc.
Andersson, J. L. R., Jenkinson, M., & Smith, S. (2007). Non-linear registration, aka spatial normalisation. Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain Technical Report TR07.
Beauregard, M., Lévesque, J., & Bourgouin, P. (2001). Neural correlates of conscious self-regulation of emotion. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 21(18), RC165. https://doi.org/20015619
Buhle, J. T., Silvers, J. A., Wage, T. D., Lopez, R., Onyemekwu, C., Kober, H., Weber, J., Ochsner, K. N. (2014). Cognitive reappraisal of emotion: A meta-analysis of human neuroimaging studies. Cerebral Cortex, 24(11), 2981–2990. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bht154
Doré, B. P., Silvers, J. A., & Ochsner, K. N. (2016). Toward a Personalized Science of Emotion Regulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(4), 171–187. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12240
Doré, B. P., Weber, J., & Ochsner, K. N. (2017). Neural Predictors of Decisions to Cognitively Control Emotion. The Journal of Neuroscience, 37(10), 2580–2588. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2526-16.2016
Dörfel, D., Lamke, J. P., Hummel, F., Wagner, U., Erk, S., & Walter, H. (2014). Common and differential neural networks of emotion regulation by detachment, reinterpretation, distraction, and expressive suppression: A comparative fMRI investigation. NeuroImage, 101, 298–309. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.06.051
Drabant, E. M., Mcrae, K., Manuck, S. B., Hariri, A. R., & Gross, J. J. (2009). Individual Differences in Typical Reappraisal Use Predict Amygdala and Prefrontal Responses. Biological Psychiatry, 65(5), 367–373. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.09.007
Eklund, A., Nichols, T. E., & Knutsson, H. (2016). Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(28), 7900–7905. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1602413113
Etkin, A., Büchel, C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). The neural bases of emotion regulation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(11), 693–700. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn4044
Ferri, J., Schmidt, J., Hajcak, G., & Canli, T. (2016). Emotion regulation and amygdala-precuneus connectivity: Focusing on attentional deployment. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 16(6), 991–1002. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-016-0447-y
Ferri, J., Schmidt, J., Hajcak, G., & Canli, T. (2013). Neural correlates of attentional deployment within unpleasant pictures. NeuroImage, 70, 268–277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.12.030
Frank, D. W., Dewitt, M., Hudgens-Haney, M., Schaeffer, D. J., Ball, B. H., Schwarz, N. F., Hussein, A. A., Smart, L. M., & Sabatinelli, D. (2014). Emotion regulation: Quantitative meta-analysis of functional activation and deactivation. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 45, 202–211. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.06.010
García-garcía, I., Kube, J., Gaebler, M., Horstmann, A., & Villringer, A. (2016). Neural processing of negative emotional stimuli and the influence of age, sex and task-related characteristics. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 68, 773–793. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.04.020
Goldin, P. R., McRae, K., Ramel, W., & Gross, J. J. (2008). The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion. Biological Psychiatry, 63(6), 577–586. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.05.031
Gross, J. J. (1998a). Antecedent and response focused emotion regulation: Diverge consequences for experience, expression, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(1), 224–237.
Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), 281–291. 10.1017.S0048577201393198
Gross, J. J. (2015a). Emotion Regulation: Current Status and Future Prospects. Psychological Inquiry, 26(1), 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2014.940781
Gross, J. J. (1998b). The Emerging Field of Emotion Regulation: An Integrative Review. Review of General Psychology, 2(5), 271–299. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2618.104.22.1681
Gross, J. J. (2015b). The Extended Process Model of Emotion Regulation: Elaborations, Applications, and Future Directions. Psychological Inquiry, 26(1), 130–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2015.989751
Hermann, A., Kress, L., & Stark, R. (2017). Neural correlates of immediate and prolonged effects of cognitive reappraisal and distraction on emotional experience. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 11(5), 1227–1237. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-016-9603-9
Kalisch, R., Wiech, K., Herrmann, K., & Dolan, R. J. (2006). Neural Correlates of Self-distraction from Anxiety and a Process Model of Cognitive Emotion Regulation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18(8), 1266–1276. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2006.18.8.1266
Kanske, P., Heissler, J., Schönfelder, S., Bongers, A., & Wessa, M. (2011). How to regulate emotion? Neural networks for reappraisal and distraction. Cerebral Cortex, 21(6), 1379–1388. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhq216
Koenigsberg, H. W., Fan, J., Ochsner, K. N., Liu, X., Guise, K. G., Pizzarello, S., Dorantes, C., Guerreri, S., Tecuta, L., Goodman, M., New, A., & Siever, L. J. (2009). Neural Correlates of the Use of Psychological Distancing to Regulate Responses to Negative Social Cues: A Study of Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 66(9), 854–863. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.06.010
Kohn, N., Eickhoff, S. B., Scheller, M., Laird, A. R., Fox, P. T., & Habel, U. (2014). Neural network of cognitive emotion regulation - An ALE meta-analysis and MACM analysis. NeuroImage, 87, 345–355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.11.001
Jenkinson, M., Bannister, P., Brady, M., & Smith, S. (2002). Improved optimization for the robust and accurate linear registration and motion correction of brain images. Neuroimage, 17(2), 825–841.
Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (2008). International affective picture system (IAPS): affective ratings of pictures and instruction manual. Technical Report A7, University.
Martins, B., Sheppes, G., Gross, J. J., & Mather, M. (2018). Age Differences in Emotion Regulation Choice: Older Adults Use Distraction Less Than Younger Adults in High-Intensity Positive Contexts. Journals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 73(4), 603–611. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbw028
McRae, K., Ciesielski, B., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Unpacking cognitive reappraisal: goals, tactics, and outcomes. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 12(2), 250–255. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026351
McRae, K., Hughes, B., Chopra, S., Gabrieli, J., Gross, J., & Ochsner, K. N. (2010). The neural bases of distraction and reappraisal: An fMRI study of emotion regulation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 248–262.
Morawetz, C., Bode, S., Baudewig, J., Kirilina, E., & Heekeren, H. R. (2016). Changes in Effective Connectivity Between Dorsal and Ventral Prefrontal Regions Moderate Emotion Regulation. Cerebral Cortex, 26(5), 1923–1937. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhv005
Morawetz, C., Bode, S., Derntl, B., & Heekeren, H. R. (2017). The effect of strategies, goals and stimulus material on the neural mechanisms of emotion regulation: A meta-analysis of fMRI studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 72, 111–128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.11.014
Murphy, J. W., & Young, M. A. (2017). Dynamic processes in emotion regulation choice. Cognition and Emotion, 9931(December), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2017.1419935
Naragon-Gainey, K., McMahon, T. P., & Chacko, T. P. (2017). The structure of common emotion regulation strategies: A meta-analytic examination. Psychological Bulletin, 143(4), 384–427. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000093
Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2002). Rethinking Feelings: An fMRI Study of the Cognitive Regulation of Emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215–1229. https://doi.org/10.1162/089892902760807212
Ochsner, K. N., Ray, R. D., Cooper, J. C., Robertson, E. R., Chopra, S., Gabrieli, J. D. E., & Gross, J. J. (2004). For better or for worse: neural systems supporting the cognitive down- and up-regulation of negative emotion. Neuroimage, 23, 483–499. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.06.030
Ochsner, K. N., & Gross, J. J. (2005). The cognitive control of emotion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(5), 242–249. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2005.03.010
Ochsner, K. N., Silvers, J. A., & Buhle, J. T. (2012). Functional imaging studies of emotion regulation: a synthetic review and evolving model of the cognitive control of emotion. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1251(1), E1–E24. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06751.x
Résibois, M., Verduyn, P., Delaveau, P., Rotgé, J. Y., Kuppens, P., Mechelen, I. Van, & Fossati, P. (2017). The neural basis of emotions varies over time: Different regions go with onset- and offset-bound processes underlying emotion intensity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(8), 1261–1271. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsx051
Scheibe, S., Sheoppes, G., & Staudinger, U. M. (2015). Distract or Rappraise? Age-Related Differences in Emotion-Regulation Choice. Emotion, 15(1393), 677–681. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039246
Schirda, B., Valentine, T. R., Aldao, A., & Prakash, R. S. (2016). Age-Related Differences in Emotion Regulation Strategies: Examining the Role of Contextual Factors. Developmental Psychology, 52(9), 1370–1380. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000194.supp
Schönfelder, S., Kanske, P., Heissler, J., & Wessa, M. (2014). Time course of emotion-related responding during distraction and reappraisal. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(9), 1310–1319. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nst116
Shafir, R., Thiruchselvam, R., Suri, G., Gross, J. J., & Sheppes, G. (2016). Neural processing of emotional-intensity predicts emotion regulation choice. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(12):1863-1871. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsw114
Sheppes, G., Scheibe, S., Suri, G., & Gross, J. J. (2011). Emotion-regulation choice. Psychological Science, 22(11), 1391–1396. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611418350
Sheppes, G., Scheibe, S., Suri, G., Radu, P., Blechert, J., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation choice: A conceptual framework and supporting evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 163–181. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030831
Silvers, J. A., & Guassi Moreira, J. F. (2017). Capacity and tendency: A neuroscientific framework for the study of emotion regulation. Neuroscience Letters, 693:35-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2017.09.017
Silvers, J. A., Weber, J., Wager, T. D., & Ochsner, K. N. (2015). Bad and worse: Neural systems underlying reappraisal of high-and low-intensity negative emotions. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(2), 172–179. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsu043
Suri, G., Sheppes, G., Young, G., Abraham, D., McRae, K., & Gross, J. J. (2018). Emotion regulation choice: the role of environmental affordances. Cognition and Emotion, 32(5), 963–971. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2017.1371003
Suri, G., Whittaker, K., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Launching reappraisal: It’s less common than you might think. Emotion, 15(1), 73–77. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000011
Uusberg, A., Thiruchselvam, R., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Using distraction to regulate emotion: Insights from EEG theta dynamics. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 91(3), 254–260. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2014.01.006
Webb, T. L., Miles, E., & Sheeran, P. (2012). Dealing with feeling: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of strategies derived from the process model of emotion regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 138(4), 775–808. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027600
White, R. E., Kross, E., & Duckworth, A. L. (2015). Spontaneous Self-Distancing and Adaptive Self-Reflection Across Adolescence. Child Development, 86(4), 1272–1281. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12370
Funding for this research was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health. An R21 grant (MH094545) was awarded to James J. Gross.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Moodie, C.A., Suri, G., Goerlitz, D.S. et al. The neural bases of cognitive emotion regulation: The roles of strategy and intensity. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 20, 387–407 (2020). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-020-00775-8
- Emotion regulation
- Cognitive control