MRI Outcomes of Emotional Regulation: A Feasibility Study

Sunday, 30 July 2017: 9:10 AM

Brenda Marshall, EdD, MSN
Department of Nursing, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ, USA

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate neuronal responses to emotional regulation in healthy adults when exposed to static faces and changing contexts. Emotional regulation is the array of automatic and controlled strategies that either attaches meaning to, or directs attention away from, an event. This project investigated, through the use of a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the impact of stories on visual cues, and brain activity in the areas of the brain devoted to memory and thoughtful consideration. The hypothesis was that the changing of the context, despite the attachment of those stories to the same surprised faces, would change the neuronal connections related to memory and trust.

 Methods:   Ten participants were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they were exposed to repeating neutral and surprised faces that were coupled with changing contexts of happy stories or scary stories. The volunteers were exposed to 25 neurtral faces and 25 surprised faces with no story. Then the same 25 surprised faces were coupled with five sets of different stories (happy or scary). The process duration in the fMRI was about 25 minutes.

Results:   Five men and five women were scanned. Images were processed, aggregated, and compared for changes in neuronal firing and regional activity. Results indicated Increased regional activation when individuals were exposed to scary and happy stories while looking at static faces compared to no story exposure. Additionally, exposure to scary stories resulted in increased activity compared to happy stories. Regions of activation included the posterior cingulate process, occipital fusiform gyrus, precuneus, cingulate gyrus and intra-calcarine cortex.

Conclusion: The findings support previous studies identifying the posterior cingulate cortex as engaging in a successful mediating role related to memory and emotional regulation. This study reflects the brain's reappraisal mechanisms that exist when patients experience psychotherapeutic reframing and can also be reflective of the process occurring during the establishment of the therapeutic relationship. This study indicates that way a diagnosis is presented to a patient, combined with the facial expression of the healthcare worker can impact the patient’s ability to retain information and to understand and process it.