Dr. Hirsch explained that this previous finding suggested that subjects were somehow able to control their conscious emotional responses, but that their unconscious responses may be more automatic. Following the discovery of the amygdalas role in fear response, we decided to explore the finer points of the neurocircuitry of fear how it is regulated and controlled in the brain, said Dr. Hirsch. facial expressions.
To study emotional regulation, Dr. Etkin collaborated with Tobias Egner, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Hirschs lab, who has used fMRI to study non-emotional forms of attentional control. In the 2006 Neuron paper, subjects were asked to identify the facial expressions in photos shown to them as either happy or fearful. Across each face were the words FEAR or HAPPY, and were either congruent or conflicting from the facial expressions. When the word and face clashed, subjects experienced an emotional conflict, which slowed their performance and made them less accurate in identifying facial expressions.
Using a clever behavioral trick, however, the researchers were able to discriminate between brain circuitry that detected this emotional conflict from circuitry that resolved this conflict. They found that the amygdala generates the signal telling the brain that an emotional conflict is present; this conflict then interferes with the brains ability to perform the task. The rostral anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the frontal lobe, was activated to resolve the conflict. Critically, the rostral cingulate dampened activity in the amygdala, so that the emotional response did not overwhelm subjects performance, thus achieving emotional control.
Contact: Elizabeth Streich
Columbia University Medical Center