Behavioural and neural correlates of self-focused emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder

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Abstract

Background

In healthy individuals, voluntary modification of self-relevance has proven effective in regulating subjective emotional experience as well as physiologic responses evoked by emotive stimuli. As social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by both altered emotional and self-related processing, we tested if emotion regulation through self-focused reappraisal is effective in individuals with SAD.

Methods

While undergoing 3 T functional magnetic resonance imaging, individuals with SAD and matched healthy controls either passively viewed neutral and aversive pictures or actively increased or decreased their negative emotional experience through the modification of self-relevance or personal distance to aversive pictures. Participants rated all pictures with regard to the intensity of elicited emotions and self-relatedness.

Results

We included 21 individuals with SAD and 23 controls in our study. Individuals with SAD reported significantly stronger emotional intensity across conditions and showed a nonsignificant tendency to judge pictures as more self-related than controls. Compared with controls, individuals with SAD showed an overactivation in bilateral temporoparietal regions and in the posterior midcingulate cortex during the passive viewing of aversive compared with neutral pictures. During instructed emotion regulation, activation patterns normalized and no significant group differences were detected.

Limitations

As no positive pictures were presented, results might be limited to the regulation of negative emotion.

Conclusion

During passive viewing of aversive images, individuals with SAD showed evidence of neural hyperreactivity that may be interpreted as increased bodily self-consciousness and heightened perspective-taking. During voluntary increase and decrease of negative emotional intensity, group differences disappeared, suggesting self-focused reappraisal as a successful emotion regulation strategy for individuals with SAD.

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