Functional decoupling of emotion coping network subserves automatic emotion regulation by implementation intention
Automatic emotion regulation (AER) aims at modifying emotional impact effortlessly. However, the effortless account and the neural mechanisms of AER are both undetermined. For this purpose, we collected functional neuroimages (fMRI) in thirty-one participants who attended to neutral and disgust pictures in three conditions: Watching, Goal Intention (GI) and Reappraisal by Implementation Intention (RII). RII decreased negative feelings and bilateral amygdala activity without eliciting cognitive efforts, evidenced by the reduced effort rating and less prefrontal engagement during RII compared to Watching and GI. These regulation effects should not be explained by emotional habituation, as Experiment 2 observed no habituation to stimulus repetitions. Task-based network analysis showed similar functional connectivity (FC) of ventral anterior cingulate cortex to left insula and right precuneus during RII and GI conditions, both involving goal setup. Furthermore, RII relative to GI exhibited weaker FC in brain networks subserving effortful control (e.g. inferior-superior parietal FC), memory retrieval (e.g. inferior-middle temporal and lingual-putamen FCs), aversive anticipation and motor planning (e.g. Paracentral-superior temporal gyrus, putamen-operculum FCs). The FC strength of putamen to operculum/lingual, and paracentral to STG positively predicts regulatory difficulty. These results suggest that the setup of implementation intention automatizes emotion regulation, by reducing online mobilization of neural systems underlying the stream of emotion coping.
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