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Suppressing Emotions Impairs Subsequent Stroop Performance and Reduces Prefrontal Brain Activation

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2013
Author Friese M. Binder J. Luechinger R. Boesiger P. & Rasch B. ,
Project A brain state-dependent role of reactivation for memory formation
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Plos One
Volume (Issue) 8(4)
Page(s) e60385
Title of proceedings Plos One

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abundant behavioral evidence suggests that the ability to self-control is limited, and that any exertion of self-control will increase the likelihood of subsequent self-control failures. Here we investigated the neural correlates underlying the aftereffects of self-control on future control processes using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). An initial act of self-control (suppressing emotions) impaired subsequent performance in a second task requiring control (Stroop task). On the neural level, increased activity during emotion suppression was followed by a relative decrease in activity during the Stroop task in a cluster in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), an area engaged in the effortful implementation of control. There was no reliable evidence for reduced activity in the medial frontal cortex (MFC) including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is involved in conflict detection processes and has previously also been implicated in self-control. Follow-up analyses showed that the detected cluster in the right DLPFC as well as an area in the MFC is involved in both the emotion suppression task and the Stroop task, but only the cluster in the right DLPFC showed reduced activation after emotion suppression during the Stroop task. Reduced activity in lateral prefrontal areas relevant for the implementation of self-control may be a critical consequence of prior self-control exertion if the respective areas are involved in both self-control tasks.