Neurobiological Models of Emotion Regulation: a Meta-analysis of Neuroimaging Studies of Acceptance as an Emotion Regulation Strategy

Author: Irene Messina1, Alessandro Grecucci2, Roberto Viviani3
1 Universitas Mercatorum, Rome, Italy.
2 Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento, Trento, Italy.
3 Institute of Psychology, University of Innsbruck, Austria - Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Clinic III, University of Ulm, Germany.
Conference/Journal: Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci
Date published: 2021 Jan 21
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1093/scan/nsab007. , Word Count: 214

Emotional acceptance is an important emotion regulation strategy promoted by most psychotherapy approaches. We adopted the Activation Likelihood Estimation technique to obtain a quantitative summary of previous fMRI studies of acceptance and test different hypotheses on its mechanisms of action. The main meta-analysis included 13 experiments contrasting acceptance to control conditions, yielding a total of 422 subjects and 170 foci of brain activity. Additionally, sub-groups of studies with different control conditions (react naturally or focus on emotions) were identified and analysed separately. Our results showed executive areas to be affected by acceptance only in the subgroup of studies in which acceptance was compared to natural reactions. In contrast, a cluster of decreased brain activity located in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)/precuneus was associated to acceptance regardless of the control condition. These findings suggest that high-level executive cortical processes are not a distinctive feature of acceptance, whereas functional deactivations in the PCC/precuneus constitute its specific neural substrate. The neuroimaging of emotional acceptance calls into question a key tenet of current neurobiological models of emotion regulation consisting in the necessary involvement of high-level executive processes to actively modify emotional states, suggesting a complementary role for limbic portions of the default system.

Keywords: ALE; Acceptance; Default Mode Network; Emotion Regulation; Meta-analysis; Mindfulness; posterior cingulate.

PMID: 33475715 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsab007