Implicit, But Not Explicit, Emotion Regulation Relieves Unpleasant Neural Responses Evoked by High-Intensity Negative Images

 Yueyao Zhang1  · Sijin Li2  · Kexiang Gao2  · Yiwei Li1  · Jiajin Yuan1  · Dandan Zhang1,3,4
1 Institute of Brain and Psychological Sciences, Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu 610066, China 
2 School of Psychology, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China 
3 Shenzhen-Hong Kong Institute of Brain Science, Shenzhen 518060, China 
4 Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China


Evidence suggests that explicit reappraisal has limited regulatory effects on high-intensity emotions, mainly due to the depletion of cognitive resources occupied by the high-intensity emotional stimulus itself. The implicit form of reappraisal has proved to be resource-saving and therefore might be an ideal strategy to achieve the desired regulatory effect in high-intensity situations. In this study, we explored the regulatory effect of explicit and implicit reappraisal when participants encountered low- and high-intensity negative images. The subjective emotional rating indicated that both explicit and implicit reappraisal down-regulated negative experiences, irrespective of intensity. However, the amplitude of the parietal late positive potential (LPP; a neural index of experienced emotional intensity) showed that only implicit reappraisal had significant regulatory effects in the high-intensity context, though both explicit and implicit reappraisal successfully reduced the emotional neural responses elicited by low-intensity negative images. Meanwhile, implicit reappraisal led to a smaller frontal LPP amplitude (an index of cognitive cost) compared to explicit reappraisal, indicating that the implementation of implicit reappraisal consumes limited cognitive control resources. Furthermore, we found a prolonged effect of implicit emotion regulation introduced by training procedures. Taken together, these findings not only reveal that implicit reappraisal is suitable to relieve high-intensity negative experiences as well as neural responses, but also highlight the potential benefit of trained implicit regulation in clinical populations whose frontal control resources are limited.

Cognitive reappraisal; Implicit emotion regulation; Training; Emotional intensity; Late positive potential