Automatic emotion regulation (AER) plays a vital role in the neuropathology underlying both suicide and self-harm via modifying emotional impact effortlessly. However, both the effortless account and the neural mechanisms of AER are undetermined. To investigate the neural changes at AER, we collected functional MRI (fMRI) in 31 participants who attended to neutral and disgust pictures in three conditions: watching, goal intention (GI), and reappraisal by implementation intention (RII). Results showed that RII (but not GI) decreased negative feelings and bilateral amygdala activity without increasing cognitive efforts, evidenced by the reduced effort rating and less prefrontal engagement during RII compared with during watching and GI. These emotion-regulatory effects of RII cannot be explained by emotional habituation, as the supplementary experiment (N=31) showed no emotional habituation effects when the same disgust pictures were presented repeatedly three times for each watching and GI condition. Task-based network analysis showed both RII and GI relative to watching increased functional connectivities (FCs) of the ventral anterior cingulate cortex to the left insula and right precuneus during conditions, two FCs subserving goal setup. However, RII relative to GI exhibited weaker FCs in brain networks subserving effortful control, memory retrieval, aversive anticipation, and motor planning. In these FCs, the FC intensity of putamen-operculum/lingual and paracentral-superior temporal gyri positively predicted regulatory difficulty ratings. These findings suggest that the setup of implementation intention automatizes emotion regulation by reducing the online mobilization of emotion-coping neural systems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Neurology