The Effectiveness Of ‘Experiential Emotion Regulation’ Versus ‘Cognitive Defusion’: An fMRI Study

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Introduction: Adaptive emotion regulation (ER) is conducive to physical and mental health, whereas dysfunctional ER is central to psychopathology [1]. Over recent years, the interest in ER research has grown, with a special interest in cognitive ER, such as cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion attempts to alter the undesirable functions of thoughts and other private events by observing thoughts using a self-distanced perspective [2]. Emotion can also be regulated with 'experiential ER', which refers to the affectively attending, acknowledging and getting awareness of the bodily felt feeling in an accepting and welcoming way [3]. Experiencing is the manner of processing experiential ER, which also be termed as experiential acceptance. Although abundant research has focused on top-down cognitive ER, research is needed to validate the effectiveness of bottom-up experiential ER. Therefore, our research seeks out to compare the effects of experiential ER in the processing of bottom-up generated emotions compared to cognitive defusion on both the behavior and the brain imaging level. Methods: 19 right-handed healthy, Dutch speaking female participants between the ages of 18-45 years were recruited to receive the task fMRI scanning with a 3.0 T General Electric (GE) scanner. Experimental stimuli consist of 81 aversive and 27 neutral pictures from the International Affective Picture System. A mixed boxcar design with two sessions was applied. Each session consisted of 4 runs: watch neutral (pure baseline), watch negative, experiential ER and cognitive defusion. The paradigm is a modified version of a previously validated paradigm for ER [4]. SPM12 was used to conduct the pre-processing of the task fMRI data which including slice timing, head motion correction, spatial normalization and smoothing. For the first-level analysis, preprocessed task fMRI images were entered into a General Linear Model, to estimate blood oxygen level dependent signal changes for each experimental run. Onsets of emotion induction (i.e., the 8.5s picture presentation phase) were entered as the regressors-of-interest, while repressors-of-no-interest were created by the 6 movement parameters. All regressors were convolved with the hemodynamic response function. Individual contrast images of the first-level analysis were fed into a second-level random-effects group analysis, using one-way anova model with the F contrast images representing the experimental condition differences. Afterwards, the individual parameter estimates for those significant activation clusters in the correlation of BOLD signal were extracted using MarsBaR. Finally, we correlated the signal change of those significant brain areas with subjective rating on the group level. Results: Results indicated people felt the least negative with watch negative and the most negative with experiential ER. Brain imaging results showed left lingual cortex, right angular cortex, left superior frontal cortex (BA9), left inferior parietal lobule and right caudate were recruited to account the experimental condition differences (p<0.05, FDR corrected). Furthermore, the signal changes of these brain areas were extracted and further correlated with participants´ behavioral ratings. Both the signal change of left BA9 (r = 0.64) and left lingual (r= 0.49) were positively correlated with participants´ arousal rating under experiential ER. In addition, a negative correlation was found between the signal change of right angular and participants´ arousal rating both under the watch neutral (r=-0.56) and cognitive defusion (r=-0.49). Conclusion: Our results suggested the activation of BA9 and the left lingual cortex can be explained as the extend of efforts people putting into experiential ER and the deactivation of right angular is responsible for the cognitive efforts devoted to cognitive defusion, which similar to the mind state of watching the neutral photos. References 1 Gross, J.J. (2015), ‘Emotion Regulation: Current Status and Future Prospects’, Psychological Inquiry, vol. 26, pp: 1–26. 2 Koenigsberg, H.W. (2010), ‘Neural correlates of usingdistancing to regulate emotional responses to social cues’, Neuropsychologia, vol. 48, pp: 1813–1822. 3 Vandekerckhove, M. (2012), ‘Experiential versus analytical emotion regulation and sleep: breaking the link between negative events and sleep disturbance’, Emotion, vol. 12, pp: 1415–1421. 4 Ochsner, K.N. (2002), ‘Rethinking feelings: an FMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion’. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol.14, pp: 1215–1229
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2018 OHBM Annual Meeting
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Experiential; Reappraisal; Emotion Regulation; Emotion; signal change

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