Training emotion regulation through real-time fMRI neurofeedback of amygdala activity.

Research paper by U U Herwig, J J Lutz, S S Scherpiet, H H Scheerer, J J Kohlberg, S S Opialla, A A Preuss, V R VR Steiger, J J Sulzer, S S Weidt, P P Stämpfli, M M Rufer, E E Seifritz, L L Jäncke, A B AB Brühl

Indexed on: 06 Oct '18Published on: 06 Oct '18Published in: NeuroImage


Being in control of one's emotions is not only desirable in many everyday situations but is also a great challenge in a variety of mental disorders. Successful intentional emotion regulation is related to down-regulation of amygdala activity. Training mental interventions supported by neurofeedback of one's own amygdala activity using real-time (rt-)fMRI might be beneficial for mental health and well-being. Rt-fMRI guided amygdala-downregulation using cognitive interventions such as a "reality check", however, have not been well-investigated. Fifteen healthy subjects underwent four rt-fMRI sessions with neurofeedback of their own amygdala activity while applying a reality check as an emotion regulation strategy in order to down-regulate their amygdala signal during a stimulation with emotional pictures. The Control group comprised of eleven subjects also trained emotion regulation but without obtaining feedback. We hypothesized more prominent down-regulation of amygdala activity at the end of the training in the Feedback group. We investigated effects over time and between groups and further task specific connectivity of the amygdala by using psychophysiological interaction analyses. Four weekly amygdala-based feedback sessions resulted in significantly decreased amygdala activity (p = 0.003, d = 0.93), also compared to the Control group (p = 0.014, d = 1.12). Task specific connectivity of the amygdala with the anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus and distinct prefrontal areas was increased in the Feedback group. Training of emotion regulation supported by rt-fMRI neurofeedback resulted in a prominent amygdala down-regulation compared to training without feedback. The finding implicates successful emotion regulation, compliant with emotion control models, through an easily applicable reality check strategy. Rt-fMRI neurofeedback may support emotion regulation learning and bears clinical potential for psychotherapy. Copyright © 2018. Published by Elsevier Inc.