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Cogn Emot. 2011 Apr;25(3):490-505. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2010.527494.

Incidental regulation of attraction: the neural basis of the derogation of attractive alternatives in romantic relationships.

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  • 1Psychology Department, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA. mlmeyer@ucla.edu


Although a great deal of research addresses the neural basis of deliberate and intentional emotion-regulation strategies, less attention has been paid to the neural mechanisms involved in implicit forms of emotion regulation. Behavioural research suggests that romantically involved participants implicitly derogate the attractiveness of alternative partners, and the present study sought to examine the neural basis of this effect. Romantically committed participants in the present study were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while indicating whether they would consider each of a series of attractive (or unattractive) opposite-sex others as a hypothetical dating partner both while under cognitive load and no cognitive load. Successful derogation of attractive others during the no cognitive load compared to the cognitive load trials corresponded with increased activation in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and posterior dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (pDMPFC), and decreased activation in the ventral striatum, a pattern similar to those reported in deliberate emotion-regulation studies. Activation in the VLPFC and pDMPFC was not significant in the cognitive load condition, indicating that while the derogation effect may be implicit, it nonetheless requires cognitive resources. Additionally, activation in the right VLPFC correlated with participants' level of relationship investment. These findings suggest that the RVLPFC may play a particularly important role in implicitly regulating the emotions that threaten the stability of a romantic relationship.

© 2011 Psychology Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa business

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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