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Neural circuits of emotion regulation: a comparison of mindfulness-based and cognitive reappraisal strategies.

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Opialla Sarah, Lutz Jacqueline, Scherpiet Sigrid, Hittmeyer Anna, Jäncke Lutz, Rufer Michael, Grosse Holtforth Martin, Herwig Uwe, Brühl Annette B,
Project Explicit and implicit change of depression in exposure-based cognitive therapy
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience
Title of proceedings European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience
DOI 10.1007/s00406-014-0510-z


Dealing with one's emotions is a core skill in everyday life. Effective cognitive control strategies have been shown to be neurobiologically represented in prefrontal structures regulating limbic regions. In addition to cognitive strategies, mindfulness-associated methods are increasingly applied in psychotherapy. We compared the neurobiological mechanisms of these two strategies, i.e. cognitive reappraisal and mindfulness, during both the cued expectation and perception of negative and potentially negative emotional pictures. Fifty-three healthy participants were examined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (47 participants included in analysis). Twenty-four subjects applied mindfulness, 23 used cognitive reappraisal. On the neurofunctional level, both strategies were associated with comparable activity of the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When expecting negative versus neutral stimuli, the mindfulness group showed stronger activations in ventro- and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, supramarginal gyrus as well as in the left insula. During the perception of negative versus neutral stimuli, the two groups only differed in an increased activity in the caudate in the cognitive group. Altogether, both strategies recruited overlapping brain regions known to be involved in emotion regulation. This result suggests that common neural circuits are involved in the emotion regulation by mindfulness-based and cognitive reappraisal strategies. Identifying differential activations being associated with the two strategies in this study might be one step towards a better understanding of differential mechanisms of change underlying frequently used psychotherapeutic interventions.