Being able to dynamically control and self-regulate behavior enables humans to flexibly adapt to their environment. Emotion Regulation (ER) involves moderating affective responses to stimuli in our environment to maximize goal-driven behavior. Difficulties in ER lead to abnormal fear and anxiety responses in individuals with trauma experience or anxiety disorders (i.e., PTSD). Even aggressive behavior and tendencies towards violence are associated with impaired ER.
Research indicates that flexibility in how individuals deal with emotional situations, such as using different strategies to self-regulate, is a critical factor in determining resilience. While various ER strategies have been used to explore the neural mechanisms of ER, reserach is lacking on whether training in a specific ER strategy is possible and what the benefits are from such training.
In this project, participants in the experimental group will be trained in ER over a period of 7 days, with pre- and post-training neuroimaging sessions. Additionally, a social threat task will be included in the pre- and post-training sessions to measure the transfer/generalizability of ER training to other categories of stimuli (fearful faces). Notably, little has been done to establish how individual differences in these neural circuitries relate to the efficacy of down-regulating subjective emotional experience. Neural differences attributed to gender in emotion and social processing are commonly exhibited, and gender is a robust diathesis for a variety of emotion-related disorders, including some mood and anxiety disorders, and trauma-related disorders. However few neuroimaging studies have examined gender differences in ER and social threat. Therefore, through this work we aim to: determine whether emotion regulation is amenable to training, characterize associated changes to the neural mechanisms involved in down-regulating emotion, investigate whether this training is transferable to social threat, and explore how individual/gender differences modulate neural processing. Determining whether emotion regulation is trainable, and understanding the influence of individual/gender differences, may help to unveil potential interventions for individuals who suffer from anxiety and other stress-related disorders.