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J Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Feb;27(2):222-33. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00702.

Neural emotion regulation circuitry underlying anxiolytic effects of perceived control over pain.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Anxiolytic effects of perceived control have been observed across species. In humans, neuroimaging studies have suggested that perceived control and cognitive reappraisal reduce negative affect through similar mechanisms. An important limitation of extant neuroimaging studies of perceived control in terms of directly testing this hypothesis, however, is the use of within-subject designs, which confound participants' affective response to controllable and uncontrollable stress. To compare neural and affective responses when participants were exposed to either uncontrollable or controllable stress, two groups of participants received an identical series of stressors (thermal pain stimuli). One group ("controllable") was led to believe they had behavioral control over the pain stimuli, whereas another ("uncontrollable") believed they had no control. Controllable pain was associated with decreased state anxiety, decreased activation in amygdala, and increased activation in nucleus accumbens. In participants who perceived control over the pain, reduced state anxiety was associated with increased functional connectivity between each of these regions and ventral lateral/ventral medial pFC. The location of pFC findings is consistent with regions found to be critical for the anxiolytic effects of perceived control in rodents. Furthermore, interactions observed between pFC and both amygdala and nucleus accumbens are remarkably similar to neural mechanisms of emotion regulation through reappraisal in humans. These results suggest that perceived control reduces negative affect through a general mechanism involved in the cognitive regulation of emotion.

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