Indexed on: 01 Apr '08Published on: 01 Apr '08Published in: Group processes & intergroup relations : GPIR
Despite strong popular conceptions of gender differences in emotionality and striking gender differences in the prevalence of disorders thought to involve emotion dysregulation, the literature on the neural bases of emotion regulation is nearly silent regarding gender differences (Gross, 2007; Ochsner & Gross, in press). The purpose of the present study was to address this gap in the literature. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we asked male and female participants to use a cognitive emotion regulation strategy (reappraisal) to down-regulate their emotional responses to negatively valenced pictures. Behaviorally, men and women evidenced comparable decreases in negative emotion experience. Neurally, however, gender differences emerged. Compared with women, men showed (a) lesser increases in prefrontal regions that are associated with reappraisal, (b) greater decreases in the amygdala, which is associated with emotional responding, and (c) lesser engagement of ventral striatal regions, which are associated with reward processing. We consider two non-competing explanations for these differences. First, men may expend less effort when using cognitive regulation, perhaps due to greater use of automatic emotion regulation. Second, women may use positive emotions in the service of reappraising negative emotions to a greater degree. We then consider the implications of gender differences in emotion regulation for understanding gender differences in emotional processing in general, and gender differences in affective disorders.