Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Individual Differences in Trait Rumination and the Neural Systems Supporting Cognitive Reappraisal

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Individual Differences in Trait Rumination and the Neural Systems Supporting Cognitive Reappraisal

Article excerpt

Cognitive reappraisal can alter emotional responses by changing one's interpretation of a situation's meaning. Functional neuroimaging has revealed that using cognitive reappraisal to increase or decrease affective responses involves left prefrontal activation and goal-appropriate increases or decreases in amygdala activation (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002; Ochsner, Ray, et al., 2004). The present study was designed to examine whether patterns of brain activation during reappraisal vary in relation to individual differences in trait rumination, which is the tendency to focus on negative aspects of one's self or negative interpretations of one's life. Individual differences in rumination correlated with increases in amygdala response when participants were increasing negative affect and with greater decreases in prefrontal regions implicated in self-focused thought when participants were decreasing negative affect. Thus, the propensity to ruminate may reflect altered recruitment of mechanisms that potentiate negative affect. These findings clarify relations between rumination and emotion regulation processes and may have important implications for mood and anxiety disorders.

Although we all face challenging circumstances from time to time, the way one thinks about these situations can increase or decrease the suffering one experiences. For instance, a serious physical illness can be interpreted as a debilitating setback, or it can be viewed as an opportunity to slow down, to take care of one's self, and to reevaluate one's goals while recovering for the journey ahead.

According to appraisal theory, it is how one thinks about or appraises the meaning of one's experiences that gives rise to the emotions one has (Frijda, 1986; Lazarus, 1991). This observation has generated a great deal of interest in humans' capacity to alter their thinking about potentially significant or emotionally evocative events. This capacity is known as cognitive reappraisal, and it involves reinterpreting a stimulus's meaning in a way that changes, among other things, the trajectory of the emotional response (Gross, 2001).

Psychophysiological and behavioral studies of cognitive reappraisal have begun to elucidate the way in which reappraisal changes the trajectory of emotional responses. For example, cognitive reappraisal of negative images, relative to uninstructed watch conditions, leads to decreased self-reports of negative affect and to smaller increases in blood pressure (Jackson, Malmstadt, Larson, & Davidson, 2000; Ray, Ochsner, & Gross, 2005; Richards & Gross, 2000). More generally, cognitive reappraisal has been shown to have salutary effects on experience, physiological responding, and behavior, without some of the costs associated with other regulatory strategies, such as expressive suppression (Gross, 1998, 2002).

Imaging studies have begun to elucidate the neural bases of reappraisal. Several studies (for reviews, see Ochsner, in press; Ochsner & Gross, 2005) have shown activation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) regions implicated in verbal working memory and response selection (D'Esposito, Postle, & Rypma, 2000; Miller & Cohen, 2001) when participants use reappraisal to down-regulate sadness (Lévesque et al., 2003), sexual arousal (Beauregard, Lévesque, & Bourgouin, 2001), and negative affect (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002; Ochsner, Ray, et al., 2004), and also when reappraisal is used to increase negative affect (Ochsner, Ray, et al., 2004). In the context of reappraisal, it is thought that DLPFC is involved in generating and maintaining alternative ways of thinking about emotional stimuli and that the ACC is involved in monitoring alternative interpretations. Successful reappraisal has been associated with modulation of the amygdala (Ochsner et al., 2002; Ochsner, Ray, et al., 2004; Schaefer et al., 2002), which is thought to encode emotionally salient and arousing stimuli (Anderson, Christoff, Panitz, De Rosa, & Gabrieli, 2003; Anderson & Phelps, 2001; Hamann, Monarch, & Goldstein, 2000; LeDoux, 2000; Whalen etal. …

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